In my latest novel Legacy, the male protagonist, Ruy, is a man faced with two legacies: that of his mother, Luz, who is descended from a respected and noble Andalucían family, and that of his father, Andrés, whose mother was an infamous and powerful gypsy queen.
It would be all too easy for, as one of the characters in the novel puts it, ‘The mixed gajo and Caló blood that runs in Ruy’s veins [to] pull him in different directions.’ But in fact, Ruy has reached a point in his life where he embraces both sides of his heritage:
* He is an eminent physician, with his own clinic treating cancer patients, and he assimilates easily into the mainstream Andalucían culture.
* He is an active member of the gypsy community – a flamenco guitarist, and a healer, having been taught herbal, alternative, medicine by the talented healer La Pharaona.
The balance Ruy has created in his life between the two different sides of his heritage has not come easily; his was a tortuous and painful journey. But it has opened new doors for him. Professionally, he is able to blend the two forms of medicine at his clinic, with impressive results. Personally, he has come to have a peaceful acceptance of his place in the universe and a faith in how that universe works: he has come to embrace some of the beliefs and traditions of his gypsy grandmother and bring these into his daily life.
Most notably, Ruy believes in more than cold, hard facts; he believes in fate, and he believes in the power of ancient traditions. This is most evident when he initiates a ritual at the gypsy camp when a new baby is born.
A cradle made of bamboo was brought out. The matron handed Ruy three sprigs of garlic and three pieces of bread, which he placed underneath the mattress. Then, dipping his finger in the hot cinders, he marked the child’s forehead with a semi-circular sign illustrating the moon…
‘The garlic and the bread are for the three goddesses of fate. El Mèdico has explained to us that this tradition we have comes from the ancient legends of Greece. The first goddess spins the thread of life for each person with her spindle, the second measures it with her rod, and the third determines when and how it should be cut. El Mèdico is very knowledgeable. El es un hombre sabio y un curandero, he is a wise man and a healer.’
Of course, being a man of learning, Ruy has an academic interest in the gypsy traditions, and he has researched them. In this case, the ritual goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, when people believed that three sister goddesses – Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, known as the Moirai or the Fates – controlled aspects of life. At birth, they ‘spun out’ a person’s destiny: spinning, measuring out and then cutting the thread of life. Honouring these goddesses then with an offering at a child’s birth is wise, therefore, so that they bestow a good fate on the child (and look more kindly on any deviation the child may make someday from his prescribed course).
The heroine of Legacy, Luz, struggles greatly with Ruy’s faith in fate, and indeed on all traditions connected to ‘the other’. The gypsy culture seems one of arcane symbolism and superstition – it is alien to her and, consequently, frightening. But as she watches Ruy perform rituals for the new baby, she feels ‘an odd stirring inside too, as though some inner part of her was reaching out to it all, like a hungry sapling seeking the sun’.
The odd stirring – could it be fate? The inkling of a destiny laid out for Luz at birth? I have written before on the legend behind the Andalucían Nights series, the one that Ruy believes will draw he and Luz together, and fate lies at its very heart (see http://hannahfielding.net/the-legend/). But will Luz come to see their love from his perspective? Ultimately, which viewpoint will win out?
‘Do not be afraid; our fate / Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.’ ― Dante’s Inferno
‘I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul’ – William Ernest Henley’s Invictus
Do you remember the comic strip series ‘Love is…’ by cartoonist Kim Casali? For a time, in the 1970s and 1980s, this ‘brand’ was everywhere (perhaps because it called to mind the First Corinthians chapter of the Bible beginning, ‘Love is patient, love is kind’). Romantic that I am, I always looked for the strip in the newspaper, and it made me smile.
Love is so much, but if there is one single definitive ‘Love is’, I think it is this: ‘Love is… discovery’. In my new book, Legacy, this theme is at the core of Luna and Ruy’s love story in various ways:
Luna is a journalist for a scientific journal. She is educated and opinionated, and a firm believer in what science tells us is fact. Dr Rodrigo Rueda de Calderón is also educated and opinionated, but his gypsy heritage has opened the door to a whole world of alternative, herb-based healing that he believes can complement his science-based medical training in oncology.
Luna has been sent to Spain by her boss to write an exposé on Ruy’s clinic in Cadiz, which she assumes is using ‘cutting-edge, although possibly questionable, use of some rather wacky herbal treatments’. But from the outset, Ruy will challenge her preconceptions and spar with her intellectually.
I believe love can only spring from a meeting of minds, which requires each to challenge the other. This is by no means the easiest part of love (frequently it can lead to disagreement), but ultimately the challenge leads to personal growth and a mutual respect that forms a foundation for attraction and admiration.
An essential ingredient in romance, don’t you think? No matter the person’s background, for a relationship to work the chemistry must be fantastic and lasting, and the sexual connection must be brand-new, exciting and entirely unexplored territory for both. In Legacy, Luna is inexperienced when it comes to men, and the sensations that flood her when she is around Ruy are very hard to ignore. Ruy, meanwhile, is swept into his own awakening – when you really feel for someone, the attraction is transformative and so much more poignant.
Embracing the existence of something greater than oneself
Luna, Ms Practical, has a habit of seeing life in black and white. Since her mother deserted her and then died, this has been a form of self-defence and a simple way of making sense of the world. When she meets Ruy, however, her eyes are opened to so many other colours that are inherent in the true complexity of life. He has been taught by the gypsies to which his family are linked to believe in ‘the other’ – in legends and fate and yes, even magic when it comes to how a man and woman may meet and fall in love and forge a future together. For Luna, love is a journey of discovery in a strange new world which is only visible to those who develop faith.
Coming to know oneself
All good stories, I believe, contain an element of self-discovery. As Polonius said to his son in Hamlet:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Being true to oneself is particularly important when one bears a family legacy that can so easily be defining. But first, Luna and Ruy must follow the ancient Greek wisdom inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself.
All good relationships, I think, require a journey of self-knowledge. How can you offer yourself to another if you don’t truly know who you are? Ultimately, Legacy is a story of a woman discovering how to be not her father’s daughter or her mother’s daughter, or even a scientific journalist, but herself, her soul embodied.
Love is… discovery. And as one of my favourite authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, put it, ‘It’s life that matters, nothing but life—the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process…’
Choosing a name for the heroine of a novel is, for me, one of the most fun parts of the writing – but also one of the most important. The name must encapsulate the very essence of the story, its atmosphere, its meaning.
In my debut novel, Burning Embers, I called the heroine Coral, because I loved the connotations of simultaneous strength and fragility, and the beautiful colour. In my next novel, The Echoes of Love, I ground the heroine in the Italian setting by naming her for the city of love: Venetia.
The heroine of Indiscretion, Book 1 of the Andalucían Nights trilogy, is named Alexandra, because it is a name I love and because it is a nod to the city of my birth, Alexandria. In Masquerade, Book 2 of the trilogy, the heroine’s name also relates to the city of her birth. As her parents recall in the book:
Their daughter had been conceived in Cádiz, the ‘city of light’, on the last euphoric night of their honeymoon and when she came screaming lustily into the world, nine months later, both Salvador and Alexandra instantly agreed that Luz, meaning ‘light’ in Spanish, was the only fitting name for their adored little girl, who had now grown into a charismatically beautiful and spirited young woman.
For Book 3, Legacy, I wanted a richly symbolic name for the heroine, one that would have meaning for both herself and the man who will fall for her. Here is the moment she first introduces herself to Ruy:
‘Luna,’ he murmured, as if tasting the sound on his tongue. From his sinfully perfect lips, her name sounded positively decadent. ‘A Spanish name. The moon, Queen of the Night … Yes, of course.’ He studied her silently for a few moments. ‘Where are you from?’ he ventured.
‘The USA,’ she said.
Her answer to his question is far too simplistic: she may live in the US and have an American father, but the Spanish blood of her fiery mother runs in her veins; she has a Spanish name.
Luna was so named because after she was born her father looked out of the window and saw a full moon. This is the ‘star’ under which she was born, and it shapes her destiny.
Recently I shared with you the legend at the heart of Andalucían Nights, that of Prince Kamar Al-Zaman and Princess Budur, both of whose names mean ‘moon’ in Arabic. Ruy has been enchanted by their love story, from the Arabian Nights, since he was a boy; he has what Luna calls ‘an almost childlike innocence that made him believe in the magic of the moon and the stars and the One Thousand and One Nights fairy tales, in legends and in fate; and that, of course, included happy endings’. In fact, an old gypsy woman cemented this belief, when he was but ten years of age. She told him: ‘The moon will sail up into your sky one day, my boy, and will take hold of your soul. Fate has a strange way of playing tricks on its chosen ones. Go with the tide. If you fight your fate, you will be punished. She is a capricious mistress.’
So when Luna unwittingly chooses the costume of the Moon Queen to wear to a masked ball, Ruy knows he has met his one and only: ‘Luna,’ he says, ‘you look as beguiling as your name … the Queen of the Night … An enchanting beauty, so ethereal that tonight you actually appear to be made of moonlight.’
Luna, then, is a name that has great significance for the story. But what of the rest of this heroine’s name? Her surname is Ward, from her American father, but she is also irrevocably linked to the name Herrera, that of her mother’s family – and that is a name that will not bring warmth and joy to Ruy’s heart, for his family and the Herrera family have been feuding for generations.
‘’Tis but thy name that is my enemy,’ said Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. ‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet’. In fact, as she and Romeo discover to their cost, there is a lot in a name, and renouncing a legacy is not easy. Can Luna be Ruy’s Moon Queen and yet not carry forth the legacy of the Herrera name? ‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized,’ said Romeo – can love conquer all in Legacy?
What does the name ‘Don Juan’ mean to you? No doubt you can think of various characters with the name and attributes of Juan, the archetypal womaniser.
Given that the heroes in my Andalucían Nights series are all strong, virile, handsome Spanish men, the legend of Don Juan resonated with me as I wrote.
It dates back to the seventeenth century, when a dramatist called Gabriel Téllez wrote a play under his pen name, Tirso de Molina, entitled El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest). In the play, Tirso portrays Don Juan as a seducer of women, suave and smooth and devilish. A wealthy man, women are his sport: he lives to conquer. Tirso wanted to send a message that one cannot sin throughout life expecting merely to repent on the deathbed and enter heaven, but must live a good life; otherwise, consequences would ensue. In Tirso’s original version, the dastardly Don Juan murders the father of a girl he has seduced, and upon his own death he is condemned by God.
Since Tirso’s play, many writers have seized on the character of Don Juan and reimagined him for new cultures and times. The ending is the most reinterpreted element of the story. In the Don Giovanni version, Don Juan refuses to repent. In Espronceda’s version, ‘Don Felix’ enters hell through his own choice. In Zorrilla’s take, Don Juan solicits and is granted a pardon from God.
Versions of Don Juan include:
Poems: Don Juan(1821) by Lord Byron;El estudiante de Salamanca (1840)by José de Espronceda.
Plays: Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (1665) by Molière; Don Juan Tenorio (1844) by José Zorrilla; Don Juan (1959) adaptation by Bertolt Brecht.
Operas: Don Giovanni (1787) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Réminiscences de Don Juan (1841) by Franz Liszt.
Movies: most notably Adventures of Don Juan (1948) starring Errol Flynn; Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973) with Brigitte Bardot; Don Juan DeMarco (1995)starring Johnny Depp; Don Juan (1998) with Penélope Cruz and Emmanuelle Béart.
Don Juan also inspired Victor Hugo in Les Misèrables, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, in which the Phantom is writing an opera focused on the legend entitled Don Juan Triumphant.
Clearly, the legend of Don Juan has inspired many creative types – even writers like Jane Austen, who said of Don Juan: ‘I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting Character than that compound of Cruelty and Lust.’
For me, in writing Indiscretion and Masquerade, I was most interested in how the Don Juan type Spanish culture relates to the idea of honra, which is an important theme in both of the books.
In the Don Juan legend, Juan is a man without honour in the true sense of the word. He feels nothing for the women he leaves behind, who are merely a number – a notch on his bedpost, as they say. And yet, the women he seduces do not have the same luxury of living without the constraints of the Spanish honra. If they are seduced outside of wedlock, they are dishonoured; and that dishonour extends to their entire family.
Although Don Juan is a centuries-old legend, the questions it raises about honour remain relevant in Indiscretion (1950s) and Masquerade (1970s).
In Indiscretion, Salvador feels bound by honour to another woman. Is that honour misplaced? Can a woman, in fact, be just as much a Don Juan as a man? Will the heroine Alexandra lose out because of the seductive wiles of her adversary, a young and cunning gypsy?
In Masquerade, Luz must question the importance of the traditional honra as it relates to her own blossoming, and the sexual revolution being driven by Spanish women in the 1970s. Should the men she is torn between – Andrès and Leandro – protect her honour? Should she hold herself back, and save herself until marriage? Or should she redefine honour for a young woman in the new Spain that is emerging?
Ultimately, in each of my books the hero is not the Don Juan of the original Tirso play. But he has a little of the legend in him. He is not about control and conquest; but he can make the heroine’s knees weak and her heart flutter in her chest. I imagine him having something of the Johnny Depp characterisation in Don Juan DeMarco:
‘There are only four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love.’
Now that, honour aside, is a Don Juan to set a writer’s pen aflame!
In my new novel Masquerade, the heroine Luz is a writer. She works on commission, writing biographies of notable figures.
A Cambridge graduate, her first commission was penning the biography of an ancestor for one of the great families in the Highlands of Scotland. With that book now complete, she has returned to her homeland of Spain, and is keen to find a job that will allow her to stay:
She could feel that Spain was where she was meant to be, where she was always meant to be. Here, she could breathe, feel her body come alive under the Spanish sun, and let all the pent-up, reckless instincts she had tried so hard to tame all through boarding school in England run wild and free.
Serendipity leads her to a job advertisement for a biographer working in her home town of Cádiz and its vicinity, and ona subject that interests her greatly: modern art. This is her big break if she wants to establish herself as a serious biographer in Spain – and she does, because Luz is proud and ambitious.
The subject of the biography is Count Eduardo Raphael Ruiz de Salazar, a famous Spanish Surrealist, and the man hiring is his nephew, Andrès de Calderon. But it turns out that Andrès is no easy potential employer to impress.
For the characterisation of Luz, it was important to me that she be a strong and independent heroine. She is making a life for herself in Spain in the early 1970s, a time of great social change when women were securing new rights; she is the embodiment of the new woman. When it comes to interviewing for the biographer job, I wanted her to demonstrate acute business acumen, a fighting spirit, professionalism, passion and talent in her chosen profession.
Which means Andrès de Calderon, who has investigated his potential hire’s work history closely and is ready to challenge her walking out of an early biographer assignment, has met his match! Still, that won’t stop him testing Luz by inserted a particularly unfavourable clause in the work contract, giving him the right to potentially take copyright of Luz’s writing. How will Luz, spirited, enflamed, strong modern woman, react to a man attempting to rob her of her rights? You can be sure of fireworks!
Readers of my other novels will notice a theme emerging in my writing: my heroines all have careers, even at times when that was not the norm for women. Coral in Burning Embers is a photographer. Venetia in The Echoes of Love is a mosaic restoration specialist. Alexandra in Indiscretion is a romance novelist.
Luz is Alexandra’s daughter, and has inherited her way with words. But I wanted to differentiate between mother and daughter. Where Alexandra has channeled her writing ability into pure creativity and fictional worlds, Luz is much more grounded and businesslike, and has picked a very well-respected profession (there are even awards for biographies, such as the Whitbread Prize in the UK and the Pulitzer in the US). It’s an interesting contrast between the two, given that in many ways Luz is the more spirited, more impassioned – the one you’d perhaps more associate with romance.
What makes Luz’s work interesting in the context of the novel is that her job is to root out the truth: to research and delve and investigate the artist Count Eduardo Raphael Ruiz de Salazar tirelessly, until she can write an honest, detailed and thorough account of his life. But can Luz similarly root out the truth in other aspects of her life? Can she see the reality beyond the masquerade? Can the professional biographer turn her talent and skills to her own personal life? The answers lie within Masquerade…