Have you heard of the term duende?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines duende as ‘a quality of passion and inspiration’. The word is used to describe a state of heightened emotion, authenticity and expression, and it is commonly associated with flamenco. The soul in the singer’s cry, the feeling etched into the dancer’s face, the power in the guitarist’s playing – that is duende.
It was Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca who first opened up the discussion on duende, back in 1933 when he gave a lecture entitled, ‘Play and Theory of the Duende’ in Buenos Aires. He said there are three incarnations of artistic inspiration that inspire humans to create: muses, angels and the duende, which in fairy-tale lore are a little like goblins – dark creatures. According to the Duende Art website, the duende of Andalusia is:
a looming red-skeleton, who without ceremony (scythe and hourglass in hand(s)) targets beleaguered, tormented, suffering, struggling or harassed artists prompting them (in their desperate anguish and high-anxiety) to heights of astonishing creative brilliance.
García Lorca defined the duende as a ‘mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains’, and said that ‘duende could only be present when one sensed that death possible’. He explained:
The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ”The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation … everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.
When I first visited Spain, many years ago, I was swept away at once by the flamenco art. It affected me so profoundly I knew I would someday write a novel set in Andalucía. When I finally came to write, though, the story extended to three books, my Andalucían Nights trilogy, because there was just too much emotion to convey in one book alone. Duende: that was my inspiration, that was what drove my writing, that is what drives my characters in the books.
Take the final book, Legacy. Its hero, Ruy, is descended from a gypsy queen, and he is able to captivate audiences with his raw, soulful flamenco song and guitar playing. He knows duende, not only because he is descended from a gypsy queen and is part of the gypsy community, but also because he knows darkness – he has battled with his demons, he has stared death in the face. Remember: ‘Duende could only be present when one sensed that death possible,’ said García Lorca.
For me, though, duende is not only a darkness, a looming red skeleton; it is a mournful sorrow as well. In 1999, musician, singer-songwriter and author Nick Cave gave a lecture in Vienna about the nature of the love song, in which he touched on duende:
All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain… The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief…
The same is true, I would argue, for the love story on paper – there must be pain, sorrow, if there is to be exulting love. Which, of course, means that none of the love stories I write are without an element of darkness to be overcome.
What do you think of the concept of duende? How do you respond to this state of heightened emotion and beautiful authenticity in the arts? Is the best art that which is born of duende? Does flamenco make you feel?
Reader of my novels will know that I love style. This often comes across in how I dress my heroines, but of course how the hero looks is just, if not more, important: he must be sublimely attractive and exude sexuality.
Businessmen feature regularly as heroes in my novels (as they do in many romance books), because I love to write strong, intelligent, driven, confident men. Naturally, that means for at least part of the story the hero is in business attire.
To me, the business style has an appeal all of its own. Think, for example, of the very simple cover of the wildly successful Fifty Shades series: it features nothing more than a business tie.
In Masquerade, Andrés de Calderón is one of men who vie for Luz’s affection. He is a successful entrepreneur, and he dresses to impress: often in an impeccably cut city suit, immaculately starched white shirt and designer tie.
Sometimes, his style is carefully sharp and simple, with a dark suit:
Luz turned to find Andrés standing like Mephistopheles at the entrance to the drawing room. His dark evening suit emphasized his overpowering satanic good looks and the air of danger he carried with him like a second skin.
But Andrés is also able to take the business style in another direction, to convey a sense of relaxed confidence and even, with his choice of tie, creativity and passion:
Andrés de Calderón was waiting for her, seated at a table half shaded by a vine-trellised loggia, looking suitably cool in a beige linen suit, crisp white shirt and Hermès tie with a gold-printed pattern of Andalucian horses.
What is it about a suit, do you think, that can draw attention and get the pulse racing? Here are some insights into what business style can represent about its wearer:
- He is serious about making something of his life: ‘A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.’ – Oscar Wilde
- He is cool, calm and in control: ‘Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquility that no religion can bestow.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- He is his best self: ‘Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed.’ – Charles Dickens
- He is a man of his time, but rooted in a sense of historical pride: ‘There’s no such thing as a designer of menswear – it’s only history. The suit around the world is based on the english suit, which began in about 1670.’ – Hardy Amies
- He is careful, detail-oriented: ‘Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.’ – Gay Talese
- He has good self-esteem: ‘Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.’ – Charles Hix
- He has opinions; he is considered and intelligent: ‘Style is the perfection of a point of view.’ – Richard Eberhart
- He cares about the image he conveys: ‘Every man looks his best when wearing a suit.’ – Sam Ramsey
- And finally, he is well mannered: ‘Dressing well is a form of good manners.’ – Tom Ford
Beyond what the suit says about its wearer lies a deeper layer of meaning. So the saying goes, a well-tailored suit is to women what lingerie is to men. Put simply, women find suits and ties and shirts attractive not for what they are but for what they conceal. It is the man beneath the beautifully tailored suit, the gentleman, who intrigues; in a sense, the suit is the masquerade mask.
What do you think of the business style? Do you love to read romances in which elegantly cut suits, crisp white shirts and silk ties feature? How important is a hero’s dress sense to establishing attraction in the reader’s mind? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Back in 2005, the Global Language Monitor, an organisation that analyses trends in word usage and their impact on culture, sent out an alert entitled ‘The “Skirt With No Name” Challenges Linguists – and the Fashion Elite’. Its subject was a skirt that was currently trending, variably being called tiered, flouncy, peasant, pioneer, boho, crinkled and gypsy.
No doubt you can already picture the fashion item in question (although in the 2010s you may have a new term for it, the maxi skirt). For the purposes of this article I will use the term gypsy skirt.
The skirt originated with the Romani people, who believed women should cover their lower bodies for modesty. Then, in the Swinging Sixties, it was embraced by women in the hippy movement, who no longer wanted to conform to fashion norms. Gypsy skirts were easy to make by hand, easy to customise for a unique look (some were even painted with peace symbols), and of course they were sublimely easy to wear.
In 2005, the gypsy skirt enjoyed a renaissance, but now it had caught the eye of fashion designers, which ultimately saw it spring up in every high-street retailer. To this day, it’s a popular choice for balmy summer days and nights.
What is it about the gypsy skirt that makes it appealing? I think it’s a fashion piece that is unique for the fact it marries practicality and allure. The skirt is cool in summer and very comfortable to wear, but at the same time a woman in a gypsy skirt can really turn heads: bare toes peeking out beneath a colourful and feminine skirt which hides all from the eyes and suggests a relaxed bohemianism – magnifique!
In my Andalucian Nights trilogy a community of gypsies features prominently. The gypsy girls are sensual and seductive, and this is reflected in their dress.
Here is an excerpt from Masquerade:
The feast in the gypsy camp was now in full swing. Voices rose rhythmically, shot through with shouts and the occasional report of a revolver. The moon shone in all her silver splendour, spotlighting the lone figure now central to this kaleidoscopic whirl of colour, a dancing Tzigane girl with piercing black eyes and long jet-black hair worn in a single braid that hung down her back like a gleaming rope. She wore voluminous, flounced multicoloured skirts, an embroidered bodice and tight basque of coloured calico.
The girl’s waist was tightly cinched by a narrow belt, which further emphasized the curving lines of her very full bust and hips. Her slender arms were covered with gold bracelets, bangles and chains, and in her graceful hand she held a tambourine, which she tapped in time with the music. A gauzy veil floated on her head, which she used for posturing. Her well-shaped feet and ankles were bare. From time to time there were glimpses of silver anklets and hennaed toes and heels as her feet twinkled in and out under the long skirts. For this brief interlude she was queen of all, surrounded by a circle of men and women, now four-deep, who were beating time for her dancing by clapping hands and knees rhythmically; all the while they chanted a loud call, which rose in volume until the air throbbed with it and then diminished to a lower note before swelling higher again.
What do you think of this gypsy’s style? Do you, or would you, love to dress this way? What do you think of colourful skirts and to-the-toe skirts? I would love to hear your thoughts.
In this season’s edition of The Author magazine I was fascinated by an article by Alexandra Harris, author of Weatherlands, a book that explores the relationship between the writer and the weather in English literature (well worth reading; you can find it on Amazon here).
The article, entitled ‘Fine weather for writing’, considers how the seasons – their weather, their light, their spirit – affect a writer. Ms Harris explains how winter is her season for writing, and suggests ‘no-one should expect to write very much in August’, the ‘peak time for immersive work, yet also for being with family and friends, for adventure and experiment, and for relaxation to last us all year round’.
I know well the English weather; I have lived in England since my twenties, through all seasons. So I understand well how the height of summer can when little is accomplished beyond daydreaming over a lemonade on the patio or walking through a field of wildflowers. But in recent years, I have taken to summering at my home in France, on the south coast a little way from St Tropez, and I have noticed that doing so has greatly boosted my writing.
In her article, Ms Harris explains: ‘On glorious days the weather requires attention, and it feels ungrateful, irresponsible, to stare down at the laptop you shield with a precisely angled sunhat rather than looking out at the endless glittering detail of the sunlit world.’
I quite agree; this is how I feel… in England. Because in England the weather is so variable, and truly glorious days are so rare that they must be highly prized and admired.
But in France, I find there are so many more glorious days. Even overcast days can be quite stunning, with variant colours in the rolling clouds and sometimes a theatrical thunderstorm. The weather does not pull me from my writing; instead, it inspires me to write. I write on the terrace overlooking the sea; I write in the gazebo shaded by tall trees and serenaded by cicadas.
I find that in my summer writing, I am moved to write of summer: to situate my romances in hot, sultry places. Take my latest novel Masquerade. It is set in Cadiz, Spain, where the heroine lives in her parents’ summer house:
The bright and airy summer house was so different from the imposing hacienda of El Pavón and for those who knew her well, it was little wonder that Luz found as many excuses as possible to escape here, where she could be near the wild and windswept cliffs, allowing the invigorating smell of the sea to fill her lungs.
The views from her vantage point on the terrace at the back of the villa were wondrous; there was so much incident to the ever-changing skyscape and to the land itself. It was as if nature was behaving like a magician with a wand, revealing or concealing vistas of the most beguiling beauty. Under a huge arc of sky, where racing cotton-wool clouds folded and unfolded, appeared and disappeared, an enamelled sea the colour of pure cobalt spread itself in front of her. Dancing waves unwound over stretches of glistening white sand, extending infinitely in a straight line. On the opposite shore Puerto de Santa María, the shimmering salt plains and marshy wetlands of Las Salinas behind it, was edged by a far-off screen of pine trees and the masts of ships. In front of the town boats and yachts painted in bright Van Gogh colours bobbed up and down in the port.
I love my heroines to have such vistas, the kind that one travels to see. My aim with my writing is always to transport my readers to someplace beautiful; I suppose you could say that my Andalucian Nights trilogy is a passport to sunny, sultry Spain.
Of course, I write all year round; I am quite lost without a novel in the making. Sometimes, then, I write stories in which the sun is less constant; The Echoes of Love, for example, is set in Venice in the winter. But usually I am drawn to the warmth and the light; it must be my upbringing in Alexandria, I suppose.
I think my summers in France fuel my writing for the rest of the year. When I am writing a scene back in England on a rain-swept, blustery day, I can close my eyes and remember the feel of the sun on my skin and the scent of bougainvillea on the gentle breeze.
How do the seasons affect your productivity and creativity and mood? Is the summertime your time for whatever most inspires you? Do you love to read romances set in the summer? I would love to hear your thoughts.
A girl never forgets the first time she sees Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was in my late teens and absolutely enchanted by the story, the characters… but most of all, the style.
Audrey Hepburn’s black dress, which she wears at the opening of the film, is probably the most famous of all time, and I have no doubt it sparked the ‘little black dress’ (LBD) trend that endures to this day.
Did you know the original dress was designed by Hubert de Givenchy? He and Audrey were close friends, and he loved to design for her. But when Audrey took two copies of the dress to the film studio Paramount, they were rejected for showing too much leg (there was a slit reaching to the thigh), and the skirt of the dress was subsequently redesigned.
In 2006, actress Natalie Portman modelled Givenchy’s dress for Harper’s Bazaar, and that dress then sold at auction for nearly half a million pounds.
To this day, women embrace the sleek elegance of the little black dress (albeit, one hopes, with a far less hefty price tag than Audrey’s Givenchy!). In my novel Masquerade, an LBD with simple accessories gives Luz the confidence to sail into a meeting with the attractive and powerful Andrés de Calderón:
She had slipped on a black silk-chiffon dress with ruched shoulder straps and a figure-hugging bodice flaring into a delicately draped skirt, and wore towering heels. A twenty-two-carat gold ridged cuff adorned her wrist, while oversized but dainty gold hoops hung from her earlobes. She debated whether or not to put her hair up and finally opted for a straightforward ponytail. Her make-up was minimal: a hint of eye shadow, a stroke of mascara and a tinge of tinted gloss applied to her cheekbones and lips. The copper tan she had acquired on the beach deepened the blue of her eyes, making them look wider and more vivid. She satisfied herself that she had achieved a glamorous look, without being overdone…
Back in 2010, LOVEFILM conducted a survey of the ‘greatest female screen outfits’. Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress topped the poll. But interestingly, she appears again at number six on the list, with this outfit from My Fair Lady:
Such fabulous style for the races! It was designed by Cecil Beaton and sold at auction for an amazing $3.7 million.
Of course I couldn’t put my heroine in something so flamboyant, but I did dress her all in white for one party:
All eyes turned on Luz as they entered the room. She wore a white jersey figure-defining long dress with a plunging neckline and a large cutout at the back. The shimmering white material accentuated her copper tan and her irises appeared almost dark blue beneath her black lashes. The gown was accessorized with a bib necklace of hammered gold circles which lay over her décolletage; by intimating rather than exposing, the jewel enhanced the mystery, allowing a glimpse of the curvaceous hollow between her breasts. Her hair was piled high on the crown of her head, showing off her graceful, swanlike neck, the perfect oval of her face and her delicate features. As usual, without intending to, Luz stole the show.
For me, a little white dress can be just as powerful and glamorous a style statement as a little black dress.
What do you think of these dresses? Would you love to wear one of Audrey’s gowns? Do you have a trusty little black – or white – dress?