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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

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What is a romance novel without a dash of danger? A sudden threat thrust into the story forces emotions to the fore, thereby challenging the characters and eliciting new and revealing reactions.

When I was writing Masquerade, I wanted to give a strong sense of the Spanish setting in the 1970s, and as well as exploring the central location for the story, Andalucía, that meant taking my characters to other places of cultural significance. What better location for combining culture and that element of the dramatic, the dangerous, than Pamplona in the Navarre province – home of the Running of the Bulls?

When the heroine, Luz, receives an invitation to the town’s Festival of San Fermin, of which the Encierro, the Running of the Bulls, forms a part, she at once accepts:

In all Luz’s visits back to her country she had never been to the Pamplona bull-running festival and although bullfighting was not to her taste, the renowned Encierro was the centre of an exciting celebration where the whole town took to the streets in a colourful riot of music, dancing, eating and drinking that enveloped the place in a joyous party atmosphere. It would do her soul good to be among such high spirits, she decided.

The Running of the Bulls is a very old tradition, rooted in Pamplona (though it has sparked other such events across Spain, Portugal, southern France and Mexico). Six bulls are let loose in the old quarter of the town’s streets, and people attempt to outrun them before they reach the bullring, a distance of 825 metres. Historically, the Running of the Bulls relates to hustling bulls from the fields to the bullring: to this day the six bulls that run the streets are those that feature in the bullring that afternoon.

The Pamplona Encierro is world-famous, and is often televised on Spanish channels. It takes place each July, with a run each morning of the Festival of San Fermin. Fences are erected to close off side streets, with gaps of sufficient size for a person – a runner – to get through.

Those who outrun the bull must conform to various rules, including being of adult age, of running away from the bull, of refraining from enraging the bulls and not having consumed alcohol. They traditionally wear white trousers and shirts with red fajas (waistbands) and pañuelos (neckerchiefs), although some choose to wear blue, which is believed to catch a bull’s attention.

The event begins with a prayer sang by a statue of Saint Fermin, patron of the festival. Then, at eight in the morning, there comes a rocket, which indicates that the enclosure has been opened, followed by a second rocket to show that all the bulls are loose. (Later, two subsequent rockets mark the entrance of the bulls into the bullring and their safe enclosure once more in the corral.) The Encierro lasts around two and a half minutes, but so much occurs in that time! Injuries are commonplace – in fact, up to a hundred people per year require medical treatment, due to altercations with the bulls and incidents of tripping over each other.

Why, you may wonder, when the risk of injury – death, even – is so high, does anyone enter the Running of the Bulls? It is a matter of bravado, of machismo for many – that quality inherent in the Spanish man. Perhaps, you may add, it is a matter of foolishness as well!

Certainly, Luz would be crazy to get caught up in what Hemingway (having run himself) dubbed a ‘wonderful nightmare’. And she does not intend to – but when she sees the man for whom she is falling, the wild, elusive gypsy Leandro running before the bulls, her heart overtakes her head. Once the bulls pass, she slips into the cordoned-off street and follows.

Her heart was hammering in her ribcage as she tore down the street with the rest of the crowd who were headed for the arena, their final destination half a mile away. Buzzing with adrenaline, she ran at a steady pace, oblivious to the pushing and shoving and the extreme danger she was putting herself in, ignoring the din of the crowd urging them on, yelling ‘AhíVa! AhíVa!’ She had only one thought in her mind: Leandro. If someone had asked her what she hoped to achieve once she had caught up with him, she would have been incapable of answering. The shock of seeing him had made her act on sheer impulse.

Only when she enters the ring does Leandro see her, and push her behind the barriers, to safety. Then comes the reaction:

‘What in God’s name did you think you were doing, you stupid girl?’ he growled in his strong Caló accent, glittering green eyes boring into hers with a terrifying air of menace. ‘Do I need this to torture my conscience and add to my remorse?’ His hands were clasping the side of her arms now, pulling her slightly towards him. She thought he was going to shake her, but instead he tossed his head and swore under his breath.

Anger – the first response of any who has just faced the one they love endangered. And then, once the anger fade, comes the emotion that lies beneath:

‘You scared me half to death … when I saw you standing there … looking so lost.’ His voice was husky and a little shaky.

Ultimately, in my novel, the Running of the Bulls is not a vehicle for demonstrating machismo and power and prowess, but quite the opposite: it is a means of exposing what is vulnerable, closely guarded – raw and real. In a sense, their feelings for each other are the bull they have not outrun but have been caught by, tearing them through with its horns, leaving them bleeding their true feelings.

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