Allow me to introduce you to some of 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.
- Song of the Nile: Aida, 26. Daughter of an Englishwoman, Eleanor, and an Egyptian archaeologist, Ayoub El Masri. When Aida was seven, Eleanor discovered she had cancer and she died soon after. The loss of her mother was terrible for Aida, but she and her father were very close and she became happy in their little family of two. But then, when she was eighteen, tragedy struck: Ayoub died in awful circumstances, having been accused of a crime he did not commit, and a grief-stricken Aida fled to England. The story of Song of the Nile begins with Aida returning to the estate she has inherited in Egypt ready to clear her father’s name.
Each of these heroines is admirably strong-willed and determined to choose her own path in life.
Each is also alone.
Of course, were you to ask Coral and Venetia and Alexandra and Luna and Aida, 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? Well, any novel is, at heart, the story of the main character’s journey. In a romance, that journey is often emotional and ultimately positive. Putting it simply, the heroine needs to start in a place of unhappiness in order to strive for and then embrace that happy ending.
Isolating my heroines gives them a strong emotional need. 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.
The heroines of my novels deal with all kinds of emotional difficulties; grief, for example, over the loss of family. But loneliness… that’s a hard burden to carry and a very hard one to lay down.
Surmounting the loneliness is not simply about entering into a relationship. I am reminded of this quotation from the English writer Charlotte Brontë:
‘The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.’
One can be in a relationship and still be lonely. To really cast off the loneliness, the heroine needs to overcome her fear of loss and rejection and put her faith in the hero, in their love. This lonely young woman who has no supportive family behind her needs to build a new one for herself.
For me, family is the antidote to a character’s loneliness. 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 the story of a family being created – a family that will not break apart, but will endure.
After the happy ending, I imagine my heroines living contentedly. I imagine them living out their days with a husband, and children, and friends. Life will be challenging at times, of course, but loneliness… that will be a thing of the past.
Picture credits: 1) vvvita/Shutterstock; 2) EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock.