In our modern world it seems to me that there is a great and powerful need to hurry. If you have a dream, there is no time to waste, we are told: go out there right now and seize hold of your dream! But this is not the only path to a dream; and neither, perhaps, is it the best one.
As a young woman, I burned with the desire to write. I was ready in so many ways: I had made the choice, in my early teens, that I would be a novelist; I had read and read to learn the craft, and attended university to hone the craft; and there were novels inside me, clamouring to be written.
However, I knew that my time had not yet come. I didn’t try to publish novels: I travelled, I got married, I had children and I ran my own business. Writing was a dream that I treasured in these years, something to look towards on the horizon. I ‘filled my papers with the breaking of my heart’ (Wordsworth), but they were notes jotted down in notebooks, not manuscripts. I knew that there was no time limitation on art; no actual pressure, beyond that which may be exerted internally, to act quickly on aspirations.
Have you heard the expression ‘late bloomer’? It is one which, I confess, I do not much like. Usually, it is used to refer to a child whose capabilities or talents are slower to emerge than others’. But in the creative world, it is also used to describe someone who hits their creative stride later in life.
A prime example is the English novelist Mary Wesley. Mary was a very successful writer, selling three million books. However, she didn’t publish her first novel until she was 70 years of age. (She had, in fact, published three children’s books before this, in her fifties, but they had made her no money.) The Telegraph calls the story of her literary career ‘one of the most uplifting in recent literary history’.
Other notable late bloomers in the literary world published their first novels in their fifties and sixties; for example, Laura Ingalls Wilder with Little House on the Prairie; Frank McCourt with Angela’s Ashes, Kenneth Grahame with The Wind in the Willows and Richard Adams with Watership Down. But in fact, in some circles you can be considered a late bloomer if you first publish as early as your forties, outside the scope of the New Yorker’s annual ‘20 under 40’ list of writers to watch.
You could be forgiven for thinking, based on the media, that new authors in their twenties and thirties are the only ones to watch. Of course we are reminded often that JK Rowling was in her early thirties when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. But according to writer Kazuo Ishiguro, as quoted in the Telegraph, even writers in their thirties are not budding, but peaking.
I disagree. Age does not matter; talent matters – and passion and commitment and, above all else, experience. It is life experience that moulds a writer, and so one must live life in order to write about life. I also believe that patience is a virtue, and that waiting to write, and longing to write, my own novels has made me a far better writer and better equipped to manage all that the modern world of publishing requires.
I am left questioning: For what exactly is a late bloomer late? Absolutely nothing, is the answer. It is never too late to do what you have dreamed of doing; but equally, it is never imperative that you pursue a dream before you are ready.
Autumn has come, and the lawns surrounding my house in Ireland are carpeted with leaves in glorious colours. The view from my writing desk over the countryside is beautiful, and different, which brings a new energy to my writing. Still, a part of me misses the Mediterranean, azure beneath a cloudless sky, and the scent of lavender and sweet oleanders, and the drone of bees, and the dreamy, hazy heat – I miss my French home.
Every summer I travel to the Provence-
Our mas is set on a hill that affords wonderful views over the bay of St Tropez. Whether I am inside or outside writing, I am always positioned so that I can see the sea – the Mediterranean of my childhood. I write in the drawing room and at my desk, which has the most beautiful view, and all around the grounds.
As you can see, I am a keen gardener, and I like to grow plants and flowers whose colours and aromas inspire me. Vivid purple bougainvillea climb the front of my house, while in the beds I have delicate pink and yellow oleanders (beautiful and yet so poisonous; il ne faut pas se fier aux apparences!). My favourite of all is lavender. Parts of the garden are overgrown with lavender, so that the fragrance permeates the air and attracts bees and so many butterflies.
My time in France is not wholly spent at the mas, however. I also spend a lot of time at the beaches near Ste Maxime, sitting for hours, dreaming and plotting; and in the many pavement cafes in nearby towns, like Les Issambres, where I can sip a café latté and people-watch to my heart’s content. I love to explore the local area, too. The scenery within an hour’s drive of my house is absolutely breathtaking.
I especially love to visit the Gorges du Verdon, a stunning nature resort half an hour from our house. It is France’s Grand Canyon, a deep gorge through which the turquoise waters of the River Verdon flow. After a walk, I go to the village of Moustiers (pictured top left), which is quite simply one of the most beautiful villages in all of France. It is a village built on the side of a cliff, with a spring cascading down as a waterfall. Suspended between two cliffs is a golden star strung on a chain which, according to local legend, was hung by a knight during the Crusades. It is an ancient place, and a deeply inspirational one for me.
Of course, there are other places beyond France that I find inspirational, too. Ireland, where I am living this winter, has so captured my imagination that I have been reading up on its legends and thinking of a novel set on the Emerald Isle; and my travels over the coming months will no doubt spark my creativity as well. But my French home has a special place in my heart. Still, I am not sad to have left my little haven, for I know that it is waiting there for me, full of promise and serenity, and that next summer I will return and be inspired to write all over again.
What is the timeless appeal of a literary hero like Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? The answer: he is the archetypal Romantic hero.
Rewind to the first half of the 19th century. Europe is going through great changes: the Industrial Revolution is transforming forever how people live and work, the Age of Enlightenment is introducing new ways of thinking. The result is that the traditional hero, the man who conformed and upheld social order, was pushed aside by a new, far more exciting and attractive man: the Romantic hero.
The Romantic hero has these qualities:
• He is an individual, a maverick, a self-made man who is unafraid to stand alone (consequently, he may be rejected and ostracised by society, and deemed defiant or arrogant).
• He is introspective, a thinker, which may render him brooding or misanthropic or melancholic.
• He is drawn to nature and has an interest in and respect for history.
• He is driven by emotion, and is a deeply impassioned man.
Darcy is, of course, a classic example, but there are many more in literature, such as Heathcliff from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (Byronic heroes, in fact, so-named after Lord Byron). But you don’t have to look back to 19th-century literature to find Romantic heroes; they abound in modern-day novels. Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones’s Diary is an obvious example, but in fact Romantic heroes are to be found in all kinds of books – Harry Potter is one such hero.
Romantic heroes are prominent in fiction quite simply because we identify with them and connect to them; they make us aspire and dream and hope. My own heroes are inspired by the Romantic heroes I have ‘met’ in literary worlds rather than people I have met in the real world. Here are the heroes of my novels:
• Rafe of Burning Embers
• Paolo of The Echoes of Love
• Salvador of Indiscretion
• Andrés and Leandro of Masquerade
• Ruy of Legacy
Although each is different in his own way, they can all be defined as Romantic heroes.
These men are determined individuals who have made their own way in the world – they are successful businessmen. But they are not conventional; Ruy, for example, has set up a cancer-treatment clinic that is pioneering complementary therapies.
Although these heroes project auras of strength, resilience and power, as the heroines discover, they are men who have rich inner worlds of thought and emotion. Romantic heroes are typically mysterious, and my heroes carry heavy burdens in the form of secrets that torment them.
Most of all, these men are passionate. They are men who feel very deeply and for whom the emotional landscape can be beautiful but also dark and treacherous. What matters most for them is love: only that can light the landscape and chase away the shadows.
I cannot imagine writing my heroes differently, writing a hero who is a conformist, for example, who is all about action, not thought, and who does not feel much of anything. Quelle horreur!
What do you think of Romantic heroes? Are they very far removed from reality? Why do we connect so well to their characters? Who is your favourite Romantic literary hero? I would love to hear your thoughts.
While reading an article in the Irish Independent on romance novels, a quotation from author Kate Kerrigan caught my eye:
‘The people who are reading romance are not like the people who are reading the Booker shortlist. They are voracious readers and they are getting through a volume of books.’
It’s commonly known that romance is the biggest genre, of course, with the most sales, but have you ever considered that the size of the readership is not simply down to the fact that a lot of readers read romance, but also because romance readers read a lot (if you follow my logic)?
How many romance books do you read each year, as opposed to books in other genres? How many books does a romance reader read as opposed to a reader with other tastes?
‘They are voracious readers and they are getting through a volume of books.’ What is it about romance that makes readers read and read in the genre? Do romance readers tear through books more quickly than other readers? Do they dedicate more hours to reading – and if so, why? Does Netflix-style ‘binge reading’ come into play (see this article in the Times Literary Supplement: ‘Netflix, heir to Dickens?’).
This would make for a very interesting research study, don’t you think?
It strikes me that no question of quantity can be asked without also considering quality. There are romance authors (and, indeed, publishers) who are aware of the power of quantity and who consequently churn out fiction. Often, these are books that have been written quickly. They may be short. They may be lacking in complexity and depth. They are offering quick ‘fixes’, as some readers term it, to a romance addiction.
I am signed to a wonderful publisher, London Wall, that supports my way of writing and publishing. I don’t churn out books; I don’t write quickly, with the aim of producing something that’s merely acceptable rather than the very best I can write. I tend to take a whole year to create a book, from idea and research through writing and editing. I labour over that book; I care about it deeply. I always endeavour to write something meaningful, which will transport my readers into the story world. I want to create books that are ‘keepers’, to remain on the shelf and be re-read someday. In short, quality is very important to me – more so than quantity.
When a romance reader chooses to read one of my novels, I know that it is just one of many books they will read this year. But I hope that with my book they won’t feel it’s a quick read, a story to race through before moving on to the next one. I hope that my book offers the reader a chance to slow down, breathe and relax, as they enjoy a journey to an exotic location infused with passion, beauty and truth.
A new ‘Hannah Fielding’ novel may be more of an annual, rather than quarterly, event, but it is one I look forward to immensely, knowing that the new novel is a work of which I am proud. In case you are wondering, a new book, entitled Aphrodite’s Tears, is in the pipeline, and I’m very happy with how it is looking. As soon as I have a publication date fixed, I will share the news on my blog.
She’s the one: Five reasons I write in the third person
‘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.’
So declares Jane Eyre in the eponymous novel by Charlotte Brontë. It is my favourite work of English literature, and in my teenage years, when I first began reading literature, it was one of the books that inspired me to want to be a novelist myself someday.
Yet, there is one aspect of Jane Eyre with which I never connected well: the first-person narration: ‘I had not intended… I had wrought… He made me love’. When I came to read French literature at university, I found I was entirely more comfortable reading novels like Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, in which Emma’s story is narrated in the third person.
I was stirred to consider this preference by a recent article in the Times Literary Supplement entitled ‘A brief history of the first person’ (http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/brief-history-first-person/). The author charts her personal journey from writing only in the first person, because the alternative felt ‘remote, false, a performance’, to struggling to so much as read a book written in the first person, let alone write in it. Interestingly, she describes the turning point as being when she became a mother and began telling stories to her child.
All of the books I have written are in the third person: I write ‘She entered the room’, not ‘I entered the room’. Here are the reasons I believe third-person narration works for my romance fiction:
1. I draw on a heritage of oral storytelling.
The third-person narrative is as old as time. Imagine ancestors at the fireside telling stories – fairy tales like Cinderella, Aladdin; the storyteller told the story in the third person. As a result, there is an intrinsic sense of comfort in being told (or reading) a story in which the narrator is not a part of the story.
As a little girl, I lived for story time, and for me that meant listening to stories. My governess would challenge me to come up with my own stories, and I did: so my first steps into storytelling were in the third person, and when I write now, it feels right and natural to tell a story in that way.
2. I like to explore multiple perspectives.
The first-person narrative allows the reader to get very close to the protagonist, to see the fictional world through her eyes. There is a limitation, however: the reader can only see through the heroine’s eyes.
In my fiction, I like to move occasionally into the hero’s point of view. It is important to me that he have a voice, a perspective on the story – and it allows the reader to see the heroine from another angle. Using an omniscient (all-seeing) narrator allows me to move about as I wish.
3. I want to have a bird’s eye view.
Readers of my fiction know that settings are very important in my novels. I like to set a scene and really transport my reader there. A heroine can’t achieve that; I need a narrator who knows all about the scene and can stand back and describe it.
4. My heroines are not extensions of myself.
When a writer writes ‘I’, the reader can quite naturally infer that ‘I’ means ‘I’! That is to say, if I write ‘I’ for my heroine, the reader assumes there is something (a lot, even) of myself, the writer, in that heroine; she is more personal.
In addition, over time heroines could blend together. To date, I have published five novels, each with a different heroine. I think had I written each of these books in the first person, it would have been harder to differentiate between the heroines. A reader working through all my novels may start to wonder, ‘Who is this “I”?’
5. A little emotional distance allows for breathing space.
I write epic, romantic fiction in which characters go on emotional journeys. Were I to write in the first person, I think my fiction could become claustrophobic; my reader could get quite overwhelmed by the strong emotions of the heroine. The third-person narration allows me to create just a little breathing space. Having said that, you may still need a fan to hand for the passionate scenes!