Thursday, October 26, 2006

More on the Hero Jigsaw - Simona's Jewel

When I was first asked to write my author biography for the eHarlequin web site, I was asked to list 6 favourite books. 6! Impossible. That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child (If I had more than one!)

But I managed it – though I cheated – I included all the Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. There are 6 huge books but they’re one ongoing story about one man – so that’s one book isn’t it? A huge one, but one book.

But there was one book I knew I just had to include. When I filled in the profile form, I had a problem in that I couldn’t even remember the name of the author, I had read this book so long ago. And read it several dozen times. But the author’s name eluded me. I remembered the title all right – and exactly what the cover looked like. I even remembered some of the illustrations in the novel. (Later I was amazed to discover just how well I remembered them). And I had to include it in my favourite books as a romance writer. So Simona’s Jewel was all I could include.

This was before I had the internet and knew how to hunt things down. When I learned about search engines and such, I was able to put Simona’s Jewel into Google and come up with the author’s name – Marjorie Phillips. From that point I haunted Bookfinder, and every time the BM needed some musty old tome – which was pretty often – I would hopefully put the precious words ‘Simona’s Jewel’ in there. And every time I did, it came up ‘no match found.’
Until one day last year when a wonderful little bookshop in Scotland announced that it had one copy.

It was quite scary receiving the parcel – would the book be as good as I remembered it? The weird thing was how well I recalled the details – lines of dialogue, exact scenes - and the black and white line drawings. I read it as soon as I had it in my hands and I was taken back all those years to when I first discovered it on the shelves of my local library. There was pretty little Simona, and her scheming father living in some imaginary mediaeval Italianate country of Valerno. There too were handsome, brave, courteous Ricciardo and Niccolo, the knights sent to protect Simona on her way to her betrothal to the son of the Duke of Monte Fiore.

But more important – there was ‘fierce young page’ Michele. He was dark and difficult and from the very first introduction he is ‘clenching his teeth, it seemed, upon some emotion’. Do you see the pattern here? Ricciardo and Niccolo are tall handsome, courteous, courageous . . . but they are Guy – or Julian from The Famous Five – all over again. Michele was dark, enigmatic – ambiguous. He is broodingly silent, abrupt, often irritable and seemingly arrogant and he was the one who grabbed my childhood imagination and held it. So much so that it was a little disconcerting to discover when I reread the book as an adult that Michele is – eek – only 14 - while R & N are ‘at least nineteen years of age!’

As the story progresses, Simona and her escort are under attack, imprisoned and then Michele shows his true colours. He rescues her, protects her even when they are shipwrecked on a small island and he is hurt himself and finally he brings her safely to the kingdom of Monte Fiore where he is revealed as – of course – the young Duke she is supposed to marry. He shows his other caring side when the news comes that Simona’s father has been killed in battle. His sense of honour and his growing feelings for Simona drive him to defy his uncles when they threaten to set aside his betrothal to her now that her father is dead and he risks real trouble by doing so. But he is also fully prepared to admit his mistakes in behaving too arrogantly both to Simona and to his father when the Duke returns home too.

A perfect alpha hero – and all at fourteen years of age!

So here’s another piece in the jigsaw of my developing hero. Forget the handsome, calm, too good to be true Guys and Julians – even a passing flirtation with Ricciardo didn’t last. I wanted the dark, difficult and enigmatic Michele, Heathcliff (at this stage I only knew the beginning of the Wuthering Heights story) – and that was the sort of character I created in my own It Was All Through Diamond as Paul, the dark haired, rough-edged, difficult to get to know, gipsy boy – who might have been the one who’d stolen Diamond – but of course in the end had not.

(Another personal link here – another alpha male in my own life is my son - The Offspring. And what is The Offspring’s name? Paul of course. I know a potential hero when I see one, even when he’s only 3 minutes old .)

Funnily enough some years ago a reader from Australia wrote to me and said that she’d read my Author profile – and she just had to write because she had adored Simona’s Jewel too. I wish I still had her email because I just spotted that Bookfinder has another copy of the book for sale this week – only the third copy I’ve ever seen. After I bought mine there was a second one and that was snapped up before I could blink. So somewhere in the country there’s another Marjorie Phillips fan. Or maybe it’s the lady from Australia. I hope so.

Marjorie Phillips also wrote some fantasy stories – Annabel and Briony has been reprinted but not the others. I was never caught up in the fantasy books – but if anyone ever spots a book by MP with the title Two of Red and Two of Blue – please let me know. It’s no Simona’s Jewel but I’d still love to reread that one too.

PS I do have a scan of the cover of my copy of Simona - but Blogger is not happy about accepting pictures today so I'll post that when I can.


Michelle Styles said...

Your story inspired me to search for one of my fave of all time books -- Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eliosa McGraw. And in my meory what a great romance it was -- slave girl, spying for two different masters, falls in love with arrogant more difficult one.
I am not sure where my own well loved copy went...but I may eventually have to secure another copy.
But you are right, it is the fear of it not being as good as I remember, holding back.
The book you describe sounds utterly wonderful btw!
No words only jumbled letters -- cbgmr -- an ancornym perchance.

Kate Walker said...

Definitely an acronym, Michelle - Choose Books Get More Romance!

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying your story. The first M&B I remember being handed around at school was The Sin of Cynara by Violet Winspear, but before some years before I had read Forever Amber. Not very appropriate for someone barely in double figures!!! I had an adult Library Card and I wasn't afraid to use it!! Mind you, I would have been the same age as Simona more or less!!!

blueberri said...

What a touching story, Kate! :)

Anne McAllister said...

Having been lent Simona's Jewel, I can attest to its power. Of course coming at it as an adult there isn't quite the same magic, but to have read it as a child -- it would have blown me away, too. And Michele, yes, he was definitely a hero!

LDG said...

Like you, I am also looking for Simona's Jewel as i would like to give it as a gift to someone of the same name. I have tried to seek it out and have not been successful thus far. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions to find it!



Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

amblerd said...

Another Marjorie Phillips fan! For me, it was "two of Red and Two of Blue", I read it over 18 times in elementary and high school (I used to make my sisters check it out for me !) and then my old elementary school closed down and that was one the books that didn't make it two the new school's library.
I think I will go haunt book finder........


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