Monday, October 23, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

I feel I should be writng about cake. Both Anne McAllister and Julie Cohen have been blogging about cakes of different sorts - but I don't have birthdays or other exciting events coming up - so I' m continuing with thoughts on how I came to be the writer I am.

One of the reasons why I’m making this trip down memory lane, which started when I had my 50th title accepted – a good place to look back from - is that fact that it shows me why I write the sort of heroes I do . And that started me thinking about the reasons why we write what we do – and why certain authors write for the lines they do. So of course the books that we read influence us in that way too.

As my father was a doctor – a GP in a Yorkshire town – and two of my sisters trained as radiographers taking Xrays, and another sister (yes there are five of us!) is a Medical Secretary , you might have thought that I would be a natural for writing the Medical line myself. I learned a lot about my father’s job, heard him talk about it a lot, the same with my sisters – and I know a lot of basic medical facts. (Too many some of the doctors I’ve seen will say – there’s only one patient worse than an actual doctor and that’s a doctor’s wife or child!). But no, Medicals never ‘called’ to me. Perhaps I saw too much of the reality of the stresses of a GP’s life.

It’s the same with Historicals – I love historical novels. One of my favourite ever authors is Dorothy Dunnett who wrote long, complex, emotional historical novels and created two of the most brilliant heroes ever in Francis Crawford and Nicholas de Fleury. I once flirted with a historical story – it’s still there in one of the many notebooks I have stored away – but again it didn’t ‘grab’ me. I felt slightly distanced from my characters. The need to get the research right – to make sure the historical details were right came between me and my personal creativity.

Which left the contemporary series. In the UK, these were the Modern and the Tender books. At this stage, there wasn’t anything like the amount of information about the American lines that there is now. So I never considered Intrigue or Intimate Moments or anything else. Contemporary romances suited me down to the ground – I could write about relationships and the problems that develop in them. A special friend, the brilliant writer Michelle Reid always says she doesn’t write Romances she writes relationship stories and I totally agree with her. The word ‘Romance’ conjures up so many clich├ęd images – hearts and flowers, chocolates, Valentines, Barbara Cartland and a ‘pink and fluffy’ stereotype that true romance readers know just isn’t the case.

Relationships – yes – I could write about those. And contemporary relationships meant that I could involve myself in all the problems and conflicts that beset even the greatest lovers at some points. But would it be Romance (Harlequin Romance) or Modern (Harlequin Presents) that would bring out the best writer in me? At the beginning there wasn’t any real need to choose – when I started writing, the books weren’t split into different lines in the UK as they are in America. I wrote as my characters demanded - some stories were more intense than others. And that’s why some of my earlier books appear in different lines - Some went into Romance in America; some went into Presents. And when the time came that Editorial in UK decided to split the lines here too, then there was some debate as to which line I would be best suited to.

But I had no doubt. I knew that my characters – because I am a totally character driven writer – would best suit one line. How did I know? One word – intensity. No matter what is happening, my characters, my hero and heroine, always get very very intense about things. In the early days I’d try to get them to lighten up. I’ve always admired the writing of authors like Liz Fielding or Marion Lennox. Authors who have a lightness of touch, (that doesn’t mean that their stories aren’t deep or emotional – I’m talking about writing styles here) I love reading the flashes of humour and envied the skill that created them – adding to rather than reducing the emotional punch as a result. But the one time I thought I’d tried to put anything like that into my own work it died a miserable death. I never tried again.

Instead I concentrated on what I wanted to write most. I created heroes and heroines who took everything so much to heart. Who felt so strongly, loved so deeply, and - yes – argued so ferociously – they could only ever fit into a Modern/Presents novel.

When I was thinking about this, I remembered one afternoon – a long time ago when I was at Junior School – I was about 10, I think. That afternoon there was a huge, violent storm and all the lights in the school went off so that we were sitting there in the dark. I love storms – love the vividness and the drama of them – the crashes and flashes, the downpours and the hailstones – but some of the other children were terrified. To distract them , our teacher, whose name was Mr Grogan, started to tell us a story. He held us spellbound, weaving a tale of a wild moorland farm, a mysterious gipsy boy, rescued from begging in Liverpool and brought to the house. It was a tale of intense passions, of fierce wild love and equally fierce hate. Perhaps some parents might have thought it wasn’t quite suitable for children of 11 or so – but I loved it. I just wanted the story to go on and on and on. But the storm ended, the weather improved, the lights came back on and we went back to the maths lesson that had been so wonderfully interrupted. I hated leaving the story where it had been broken off. I wanted to know what happened next. It took a long time before I realised that that story had not come from my teacher’s imagination but from the mind of a brilliant, unique female novelist. When I discovered that it was in fact Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I snatched at the book , desperate to know how the story ended.

As a writer, I’ve always wanted to have that same sort of effect on my readers – not that I’m claiming that my novels are classics like Wuthering Heights – but I want to grab my readers in the way that story grabbed me. I want them to be as keen as I was to know what happens, what came next, how things were resolved between these characters. And of course there’s the dark, brooding, potentially dangerous hero who has always fired my imagination too.

Part of the writer I am now was formed on that afternoon. I often wonder if Mr Grogan is still alive and what he’d think if he realised how important a part he played in my development into the writer I am today.

And when I look back, I always think that the storm too – all those flashes and bangs and drama – are something of a symbol for the books I still love to write – and read.

I sometimes think that, like Snoopy always does in the Peanuts cartoons, I should begin one of my books with the line : 'It was a dark and stormy night . . .'


Anonymous said...

I think every author has a different voice and it is the truth of the voice that readers love. How bored I would be if everything was light, or intense, or romantic. I like to read all the voices, and enjoy their differences!!!

Anonymous said...

Kate I'm just glad you were inspired. x Daisy

Anna Louise Lucia said...

It's so appropriate that part of your inspiration is the wild, passionate intensity of a thunderstorm, Kate.

Kate Walker said...

Cindy - I totally agree. That's why I get so annoyed when idiots who have never read any say that romances are all the same

Daisy! Thank you - the greta thing about this job - and the unexpected bonus is meeting people like you so I'm glad I was inspired too

Hello Anna love - as you know, I love thunderstorms and I think some people would say they fit with my character - certainly with my characters' characters.

I just had a thought - I'd love to share a wonderful storm with you in your lovely cottage - maybe one day

blueberri said...

Kate, I'm looking forward to your upcoming books!

I also want to say that I believe those people who say romance books are all the same are not very romantic. They haven't learned to love and block the whole process out. My marriage is much enriched from BOTH DH and I reading romance books. Our love is more richly deeper and fulfilling.

I believe a couple has to become more aware of the sensations that come alive when they touch and romance books do just that. There's so much more to it than DH and I were experiencing. I often joke we were married twenty years before we actually knew what we were doing. LOL


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