Being a writer means immersing yourself in story worlds. Living and breathing the characters’ lives. Knowing those characters. Loving those characters.
When I am writing a novel, I am at one with it, lost in it. Blissfully happy.
Then comes that pivotal word: ‘END’.
I busy myself with the business of being an author. I send the book to my publisher, work on edits with my editor, check the proofs, give input on the cover, and wait eagerly for the day the doorbell rings and I find a courier on the doorstep, holding out a box full of paperbacks. I take out my novel, and I hold it in my hands, and I feel happy, excited – fulfilled.
The book goes on the shelf, and I dive into a new story world. I immerse myself in that new novel, and when I reach that word, END, I send it to the publisher… and so on. And so on.
Meanwhile, the book whose world was once my own, the first book, it sits on the shelf. Not forgotten, never forgotten, but no longer prominent.
This week, I was sitting at my desk working on my forthcoming novel, Legacy, when my eyes strayed to the bookshelf and fixed upon Burning Embers, my debut novel, published three years ago. Three years! What an adventure I have had since in publishing: reviews, blog tours, blog hops, awards, giveaways… and three more books on that shelf.
I took down my copy of Burning Embers, and I began to flick through it, reading the odd line here and there.
Gradually the mist had lifted, and the sun burst forth, a ball of fire radiating the sky with unnaturally incandescent hues. Coral was reminded of the strident brushwork and wild colours of the Fauvist paintings that filled her mother’s gallery, which Coral had always loved. The scene was now set for the show to begin: the drama in which the broad, breath-taking landscapes of Africa were the stage and the animals the actors.
… and I missed wild, beautiful Kenya.
Rafe had sat back in his chair so his face was in the shadow, but she knew he was watching her through half-closed eyes. When he leaned forward, the fire from the candles flickered, throwing shadows on the planes of his face. She could see his eyes clearly now, and their steady focus was causing her insides to stir. There was romance in the still air; the rhythm of dripping water from the fountain behind him, the velvet sky studded with stars, the balmy perfumes of the night, all combined to accompany the endless song that had begun in her heart again as she watched him, enthralled.
… and I missed Coral and Rafe’s smouldering attraction.
“Oh, Coral, Coral,” he murmured, his one almost reproachful, but still he did not make any attempt to cross the space between them. Unspoken words and unfulfilled gestures trembled in the air. In the flickering light of the fire, his bronze skin glowed warmly. Rafe stood there very still, the muscles in his body tense. Coral knew he was waiting for her. She could feel the familiar ache, shattering the last of her control. Before she knew it, she was against him, her arms around his neck. She looked up at him, her lips parted, soft and moist.”
… and I missed those moments of connection.
I was assailed by a feeling of longing. I missed this story world. I missed writing this book. I missed being in Kenya in the early 1970s, with Coral and Rafe; I missed their passion.
So I took a break from my writing, and I read Burning Embers. And it was like meeting a dear old friend for coffee. Comforting. Bolstering. A reminder of why I write every day, of the dream that led me to writing.
In a sense, I am like my heroine Coral. At the beginning of the story she is aboard a ship bound for Mombasa, about to start a new life in a strange new land. That was me, three years ago, when Burning Embers was published. Full of dreams, yet also trepidation. As the story of Burning Embers unfolds, Coral casts off her naivety and builds a life for herself in Kenya. But, like me, she will never forget the beginning; the courage it took her to make the move; and, most of all, those who supported her. For Coral, that is Rafe, the man who shows her the kindness of strangers on the ship. For me, it is a wonderful group of readers and book bloggers who have championed my writing.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all who have supported me on my journey, and to invite you, as I did, to return to the very beginning and slip into dreamy world of Burning Embers, ‘epic romance like Hollywood used to make’. There, I can promise you beautiful landscapes, intriguing mystery, dark forces and passion, so much passion.
Welcome to my blog, and thank you for visiting. I’m delighted to be participating in the hop, not least because surely one of the greatest pleasures in life is being thoroughly immersed in a great book, so deep that you just can’t bear to put it down and mundane aspects of a routine like eating and sleeping just don’t matter: all that matters is the story.
The book I have chosen to focus on is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, because it is my favourite classic romance novel. I remember first reading it in my teens and being entirely swept away, so much so that upon finishing the novel I promptly turned back to the first page and began again. Since then I have lost track of how many times I have read the book, in how many editions, and each reading, I know, has greatly inspired my own romance writing.
Here are ten reasons to get stuck into Jane Eyre.
1. The hero
For me, Mr Rochester is the romantic hero par excellence. He is the ultimate haunted, broody, tragic hero (little wonder, then, that he was the inspiration for Edward in Twilight). And oh what a romantic. ‘You know nothing about me,’ he tells Jane, ‘and nothing about the sort of love of which I am capable. Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still: if you raved, my arms should confine you, and not a strait waistcoat — your grasp, even in fury, would have a charm for me.’ Sigh!
2. The heroine
‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!’ Jane: not pretty, we are told; nor formidable in stature. She does not fit in, does not hold attraction, does not have independent means – and yet she is surely the most likeable, moving, inspiring heroine in English literature. Looks do not matter, wealth does not matter: soul matters – that is Jane incarnate.
3. The critical acclaim
If you see the beauty of Jane Eyre, you are in good company. William Makepeace Thackeray called it, ‘The masterwork of a great genius.’ I love best Virginia Woolf’s review: ‘At the end we are steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Brontë.’
4. The author
Brontë’s own life was tragic, adding a sombre tone to the writing that, for me, makes it all the more impactful and important to read. She lost her brother Branwell and writer sisters Anne and Emily within eight months, and she and her unborn child died mere months after finding love.
5. The feminist undercurrent
In a novel ahead of its time, Brontë was brave indeed to examine the role of women in the Victorian era and to challenge, through Jane, the predominant patriarchal views in society. She is an author to champion, and Jane is a heroine to admire for her gumption and independence.
6. The supernatural edge
There’s an angle in the writing that is mysterious and chilling. Jane has prophetic dreams, lightning strikes a tree on the night she agrees to marry, and she and Mr Rochester hear each other’s call over miles of separation. I have shivers down my spine!
7. The mood
Gothic, dark, mysterious, arduous; this is a book whose effect is hugely cathartic. How I feel as I read it!
8. The language
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, great and strong! He made me love him without looking at me. The rhythm, the vocabulary, the sentiment within: just beautiful. And the wit! That is my favourite aspect, as in: Flirting is a woman’s trade, one must keep in practice.
9. The passion
Passion? you may think, if you have read Jane Eyre. Yes, passion, I argue! What burns within, what lies beneath the surface, is so much more powerful than obvious exhibitionism. To me, Jane Eyre is a beautifully romantic work, and the characters’ passion for each other is deeply moving.
10. The connection
‘Reader, I married him.’ One of the most famous lines in all of literature, and a clear indication of how Brontë connects directly to the reader, drawing you in so that you are part of the story yourself. With the first person narrator, you are so close to the action that it feels true.
I am giving away a Vintage Classic edition of Jane Eyre. To enter, simply answer the poll via Rafflecopter below. I will post internationally, so the competition is open to all.
Carry on your hop via http://www.stuckinbooks.com/
Every hero and heroine in fiction needs a compelling motive for the journey they are taking. For Alexandra in my novel Indiscretion, that motive is a strong need to understand her roots and, in doing so, herself.
For Alexandra, roots are complicated. Her father, Alonso, is Spanish born and bred. Her mother, Vanessa, however was an Englishwoman who had tried to assimilate into Spanish culture for the man she loved. Tried, but failed – because the de Falla family would not accept her into the fold. And so, ultimately, she had met a flamboyant French artist and run off with him in the hope of a brighter future – only to be killed in a car accident, leaving Alexandra motherless at the tender age of six. Her aunt told Alexandra:
‘You mustn’t hold it against her. I know she would’ve come back for you when she was settled, but things were difficult for her. Your mother suffered tremendously, you know. She didn’t belong to the same world as Alonso: she was neither Spanish nor a born Catholic. It was almost impossible for the de Falla family to accept such a marriage. In those days the rules of the Catholic Church were even more rigid. Even if your mother had not left, your parents would have eventually parted. Their marriage was doomed from the start.’
Indiscretion is Alexandra’s story, not Vanessa’s, so it is outside the reach of the book to explore the mother’s love stories. But what is clear that Vanessa’s failed relationship with Alonso and her subsequent death have left theirmark on Alexandra.
Is it any wonder that Alexandra grew up to be a romance novelist? When her mother left Alexandra to run off with her lover, her imagination was her escape. She buried herself in stories of beautiful princesses going on great adventures and falling in love with handsome princes, and lost children reunited with their mothers and fathers, stories in which everyone lived happily ever after.
Butdespite her escapes into fantasy in her work as a writer, there exists a shakiness in Alexandra: a lack of solidity in her identity. She cannot remember her mother, and all she has of her is some black-and-white photographs and the recollections of her Aunt Geraldine, whose stories are coloured by her straight-laced, judgmental nature and her anger against the de Fallas. When a daughter does not know her mother, she is left unanchored, drifting. I write:
Sometimes Alexandra felt like she was waiting for something to happen – anything to happen. Somewhere inside she could taste it, the immense potential of her passions and dreams. Where did this feeling come from, that she didn’t quite belong? Was this burning desire to know more of the world something she had inherited from her mother? But that was a question, like so many others, she would never be able to ask her.
If you cannot know a person through being with them, the closest substitute is to walk in their shoes. That is a big impetus for Alexandra in her decision to go to Andalusia and get to know the de Falla family: she ‘follows her mother’s footsteps into the dream of another life, not knowing where it would lead her’.
It takes a great deal of courage for Alexandra to take her mother’s path, but it is testament to her spirit that she remains independent. All those who would try to fill her mother’s shoes – her overbearing aunt, her domineering grandmother, her duplicitous stepmother – will not sway Alexandra.
In many ways, Alexandra’s journey is about ceasing to be a person she defines as a motherless daughter, and becoming instead her own woman. Her mother’s choices and mistakes cannot define Alexandra. She is not her mother, and her path need not take the same painful turns. Ultimately, it is for Alexandra to decide what Vanessa’s legacy to her will be. As was her mother before her, Alexandra is ‘the master of her fate, the captain of her soul’.
In my new novel, Indiscretion, the heroine Alexandra is a young woman of dual heritage: she is half-English and half-Spanish. When her parents’ marriage ended, in her childhood, she went to live in England, and for many years she has been estranged from her Spanish side of the family. Until, at the start of the novel, she decides it is time to reconnect with her Spanish roots.
How daunting it is to travel to a new land, entrenched in customs that are alien. But more than that, in Andalucia, Alexandra is to take her place at the hacienda El Pavon as one of the de Falla family: close-knit, intense and traditional. This is the family to which Alexandra is expected to belong:
- The Duquesa, Doña Maria-Dolorès de Falla, Alexandra’s grandmother. Strong, fiercely traditional, and the supreme matriarch – but with a great deal of love for her family and well respected by the locals.
- Don Alonso de Falla, Alexandra’s father. Loving, but far too pliable when it comes to his domineering wife.
- Eugenia de Falla, Don Alonso’s wife. Manipulative and snobbish; most unwelcoming of Alexandra.
- Mercedes de Falla, Alexandra’s half-sister. Jealous and determined to win Salvador for herself.
- Ramón de Falla, Alexandra’s cousin – son of the Duquesa’s deceased son Armando and a trapeze artist. Friendly, but frustrated by the limitations of his family.
In addition, another line of the family lives at El Pavon, descended from the Duquesa’s brother, Count Rodriguez Cervantes de Rueda:
- Esmeralda Cervantes de Rueda, adopted daughter of Luis, cousin of Alonso. A woman of passion, trapped by the expectations imposed upon her.
- Salvador Cervantes de Rueda, adopted son of Luis and heir to the estate of El Pavon. Loyal, responsible, hard-working, strong and entirely dedicated to the Spanish belief in la honra (honour).
Needless to say, immersion in this family life is quite a shock to Alexandra, who has spent years living only with her aunt in England. There are so many family members to get to know and understand, and so much intrigue and emotion boils beneath the surface of the family that it is quite overwhelming. How can Alexandra be herself with her family? How can she come to feel that they are family, and not strangers?
Indiscretion is a love story, but not of a woman and a man unattached and free to fall in love as they please. This is a world where family is very important.
I always wanted to write a book in which a large and impassioned family featured prominently, because that is how I grew up. My childhood home in Egypt was not unlike El Pavon, in the sense that it was sprawling and home to several generations of my family. Like the Duquesa in Indiscretion, my grandmother was the glue that held us all together, and each day the whole family would come together for a meal over which she would preside from the head of the table.
We were very much a clan; very close. I recall that if a stranger came into our midst, we would immediately draw together as if threatened by the outsider. Of course, as I grew up I came to find the closeness of the family stifling at times, but I treasured and honoured the love, support and the sense of belonging that my family gave to me. My family were a gift, and it was one I wanted to bestow on my heroine, Alexandra.
But settling into a new land and new family is very difficult. I knew this well because as a young woman I came to live in England, and even though I had travelled extensively, I recall clearly the period of adjustment I had to go through. Writing Indiscretion brought back those days, especially the strange juxtaposition of past and present, here and there, and the exploration of identity.
For Alexandra, the struggle to know whom she is and where she belongs makes giving her heart to Salvador all the harder. Come the end of the book, will she choose England: the familiar, the known, the quiet life, the homeland of her mother? Or will she choose Spain – tradition, rules, family – and stand at Salvador’s side as mistress of El Pavon?
Mr Darcy, the archetype of the brooding, aloof romantic hero who is famous the world over more than two hundred years since his inception. Clearly, Jane Austen wove magic into this character, so lasting and powerful has been his legacy.
But does the character of Mr Darcy stand as testament to Austen’s vivid and clever imagination, or is he in fact the embodiment of her social scrutinising? How far is Fitzwilliam Darcy a fictional character, and how much the representation of someone Jane Austen knew?
In her new book Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House, Dr Susan Law puts forward the case that Austen’s inspiration for Darcy was the first Earl of Morley, John Parker. Based on letters, diaries and newspaper articles, Dr Law has found the Earl to be a logical contender. He was the husband of Frances, with whom Austen was close, and she spent time at their home in Plymouth while writing Pride and Prejudice. Apparently, the physical similarities between the two men were strong.
The Earl of Morley is the latest in a line of contenders for the title of ‘the true Mr Darcy’, which includes alleged lover Thomas Lefroy, and Dr Samuel Blackall, whom Jane met on holiday. Certainly, unless new evidence alights, none of the theories can be proven.
What do you think? Was one of the most beloved heroes in romantic literature a living, breathing man – or was he a product of the imagination of a very gifted writer? I would love to hear your thoughts.