Meet the heroines of my novels:
Burning Embers: Coral, 25. At the age of nine her parents, expatriate settlers in Kenya, divorced, and Coral’s mother took her back to England, forcing her to separate from her father. She spent her whole childhood missing him, and their home in Mombasa, from the lonely rooms of her boarding school. Even at home, she was lonely, as her mother remarried and started a new family with her husband. All Coral wants is to return ‘home’. But her father dies shortly before she does so, and the story opens with Coral returning to Mpingo, the plantation she has now inherited, alone.
The Echoes of Love: Venetia, 28. She grew up in England, the daughter of an overbearing, old-fashioned father, Sir William, and a lovely but passive mother. A romance in her late teens had seen her fall out with her parents; her father was vehemently against the match, because the man, Judd, was ‘not of their class’. While Venetia had, eventually, reconciled with her parents, she had then lost her mother, and she decided to remove herself from her father’s dominance by moving to Venice, Italy, to work for her godmother’s architect firm.
Indiscretion: Alexandra, 25. She was born in Andalucía, Spain, to a Spaniard and an Englishwoman, but at the age of three they split up and her mother brought her back to England. Two years later, her mother left Alexandra with her Aunt Geraldine to pursue a new love affair – and was killed in a car accident. Alonso, Alexandra’s father, did not send for her; subsequently, she grew up in England with her well-meaning but dour and dry maiden aunt. The story begins with Alonso finally asking Alexandra to travel to Andalucía and meet her Spanish family there.
Legacy: Luna, 25. Daughter of Montgomery Ward, a well-known American business tycoon, and Adalia Herrera, a beautiful Spanish socialite. Her parents split up when she was seven. Adalia took the daughter from her first marriage, Luna’s half-sister Juliet, with her to Spain, while Montgomery kept Luna in California – and immediately packed her off to boarding school. Luna never saw her mother or sister again: when she was twelve, news came that Juliet had died in a car accident, and her mother, already an alcoholic by then, drank herself to death shortly afterwards.
Each of my heroines, then, is admirably strong-willed and determined to choose their own path in life, whether that leads away from family or toward it.
Each is also alone. Of course, were you to ask Coral and Venetia and Alexandra and Luna, they would no doubt strongly deny being lonely. These are, after all, women who pride themselves on being independent. But deep down, they are achingly alone, and have been for many years.
Why write lonely heroines? Because it brings so much more emotional need to the story. Take Coral, for example, who is alone on her plantation, the mistress of all. Were she part of a big, happy family, an extensive support network, the whole mood of the story would shift; it would be less poignant, I feel, when she and Rafe come together.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a book missing from the list above. Masquerade, the second book in my Andalucían Nights trilogy, is a little different, because the heroine, Luz, is not alone. She is the daughter of Alexandra and Salvador (from Indiscretion). It was essential for the series that the heroine be their daughter, and because they are wonderful, attentive, loving parents, it follows that Luz is a different kind of heroine: bolder, more secure. The loneliness wrought by a difficult childhood is still a theme in the book, however. In Masquerade, I turn the tables: I would love to explain how, but that would spoil the twist…
For me, in any story I write, the antidote to a character’s loneliness is family. So my ultimate aim in writing a love story is not merely to tell a story of romance, of the early days of flirting and dates and stolen kisses, but to tell a story of a family being created – a family that will not break apart, but will endure. That is true love.