Filter:

Latest Posts

Viewpoint Characters in The Poor Relation

Posted on 25th April, 2019
 
Thank you to everybody who has sent such kind messages commenting on the cover of The Poor Relation. I love it. As well as being very attractive, I think it is an appropriate illustration in that the girl isn't looking directly out of the picture but is glancing away, as if hiding her thoughts, which is what Mary Maitland has to do much of the time in the story.

 

In my previous blog, I introduced the social background to the book. This week, I'd like to tell you about the viewpoint characters. Many authors write from a single viewpoint, but I like to tell my stories through several viewpoints. I think this adds richness to the telling and it can also provide an effective way of building the tension. There's nothing quite like it for racheting up the suspense as having the story switch back to Character B, just when you're dying to know what happens next to Character A!

 

Here are the viewpoint characters in The Poor Relation. Let's start with the poor relation herself...

 

MARY MAITLAND

MARY is an attractive, intelligent girl of 23, who has worked as a Town Hall clerk since leaving school at the age of 13. Mary is happy... up to a point. Being a dutiful daughter and conscientious worker is all very well, but she feels stifled. When she gets a new job at a women's employment agency, it causes ructions at home, but it expands her world and gives her the chance to develop her outlook and her initiative.

 

LADY KIMBER

As a girl, she had a passionate affair with her cousin GREG RAWLEY, but their elopement was scuppered by their mutual aunt, HELEN RAWLEY. Emotionally, Lady Kimber never recovered from this. Pushed into a suitable but dull marriage by her parents, she was widowed young and then set her sights on marrying SIR EDWARD KIMBER, not for her own benefit, but to provide the best life and opportunities she could for her beautiful daughter, ELEANOR. She wants Eleanor to marry CHARLIE KIMBER, the heir, and succeed her as the next Lady Kimber. When it looks like Mary might derail this plan, Lady Kimber sets out to destroy her.

 

HELEN RAWLEY

Aunt of Lady Kimber and Greg Rawley. A lonely, prickly old spinster, she has lived a life of being resentfully beholden to the men of her family. Long ago, her father left her in his will to her brother's care. Now, thanks to her brother's will, she faces a future of being beholden to Greg, the nephew whose life she ruined. All she wants, even after years of being cold-shouldered by Lady Kimber, is to be reunited with her once-beloved niece.

 

NATHANIEL BREWER

A successful and committed doctor who is on a personal crusade to bring affordable medical provision to the slums of Moss Side. A serious individual with high standards of personal and professional conduct, he lives for his work. He married IMOGEN, the girl from up the road, largely because everyone expected it, including himself and Imogen. She is the perfect wife, magically appearing with the clothes' brush whenever he is about to leave the house and specialising in stews and hot-pots that will bubble away happily if he is late. Nathaniel finds that Mary Maitland and Helen Rawley between them challenge his ideas about women.

 

GREG RAWLEY

Cousin and former lover of Lady Kimber, who is the love of his life; nephew of Helen Rawley. A debonair man-about-town, his livelihood relies on his skill/luck at the card table. He is up to his ears in debt to the sinister, silver-tongued money-lender, MR JONAS, but he has a safety-net, namely the certainty of inheriting from his uncle ROBERT RAWLEY (Helen's brother). But when Robert's will is read, it plunges Greg into unforeseen difficulties....

 

* * * *

 

I hope you like the sound of my characters and that you'll want to read Mary's story. The hardback and ebook of the The Poor Relation will be published on May 23rd in the UK. The ebook price will come down in November, when the paperback is published.

 

The cheapest way of all, of course, is to borrow it from your public library, so do put in a request for it. As a former librarian, I love knowing that my books are popular in libraries.

 

Introducing "The Poor Relation."

Posted on 12th April, 2019

Yesterday my editor emailed me a mock-up of the cover for my latest book, The Poor Relation. I can't share it with you yet, because it has to be checked and finalised, but I can tell you that it is a lovely cover and very appealing - I hope you agree when you see it!

 

Set in Edwardian times, The Poor Relation is about the two branches of the Kimber family. There are the Kimbers themselves - they have the title, the money, the family seat, the social standing; and there are their lower-middle-class relations, the Maitlands. John Maitland, a Town Hall clerk, is Sir Edward Kimber's cousin. The Maitlands live their lives walking on social eggshells. They have to be ultra-respectable so as not to bring the mighty name of Kimber into disrepute. The flip-side of this is that they also have to be aware of what the neighbours are thinking, because they mustn't seem to be trading on their grand connections and getting above themselves.

 

The Kimbers and the Maitlands see one another once a year when the Maitlands are invited to Ees House for Sunday lunch. On that day, the Maitlands have to be ready extra early because not only they must not keep the Kimbers waiting, they mustn't keep the Kimbers' coachman waiting either; and as they walk down the garden path to the carriage, they have to be careful not to smile too broadly in case the neighbours think they're showing off.

 

 

The story shows the social extremes of the time, so we have the Kimbers with all the privileges of rank - the mansion, the servants, the posh dinner parties - as well as the deprivation of the slums in which Doctor Nathaniel Brewer sets up his clinic for the poor. Social reform provides part of the backdrop - the means test, the upper-class charity committees and the women's movement to improve the lot of lower-class women and working women.

 

The story also touches on the place of women in society - the changing role of the female gentry and the push for better working conditions for women, as well as the forcible feeding of suffragettes. In Edwardian times, modern-thinking women sometimes chose to 'love, honour and cherish' in their wedding vows, instead of saying 'love, honour and obey,' and articles were written questioning the legality of these marriages.

 

It is against this background that the heroine, Mary Maitland, John Maitland's daughter, is inspired by her social-reforming friends to embark upon a journalistic career. But is it possible to spread her wings at the same time as being a duitful daughter and obedient poor relation?

 

 

* * * *

 

I hope you like the sound of Mary's story. If you do, it is published in hardback on May 23rd. Hardbacks are mainly for the library market, so do put in a request at your local library. The paperback will be published in November.

 

I am delighted to welcome Merryn Allingham back to my website to have a chat about her latest book, A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

Born into an army family, Merryn travelled around as a child. Not surprisingly, she still loves to travel and visit new places. As a writer of historical mysteries, she especially enjoys places with an interesting history.

Merryn, welcome back to my blog. It’s lovely to have you here again, especially on such an exciting occasion. Your latest novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, was published by Canelo on March 21st. Congratulations!

 

I know that the most obvious question is to ask you about the two sisters in the title, but I’d like to start with the book’s setting – Constantinople. What drew you to that as a location?

 

In fact, an entirely different city was the origin of the book. Or at least, the journey there. A few years ago, I travelled to Venice on the Orient Express and fell in love with the train.

 

The compartments, dining carriages, even the mosaic bathrooms are almost unchanged since the train’s heyday. And whereas nowadays the journey to Istanbul is a special once a year event, in 1907 there was a regular service from London to Constantinople. I wondered what it must have felt like for a young woman travelling alone for the first time in her life and on such a train.

c

 

I remember what a remarkable job you did of portraying the Indian setting in The Girl From Cobb Street. What aspects of Constantinople did you find fascinating?

 

The city has an amazing history, first as Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire, then as Constantinople, the centre of the Ottoman Empire, and finally the place we know today as Istanbul. It’s a city rich in art and craftsmanship and Topkapi Palace in 1907 – where most of the novel’s action takes place – was filled with the most exquisite beauty. It was an extraordinary building, a city within a city, housing thousands of residents – soldiers, administrators, slaves and of course, the imperial family . Until Dolmabahçe Palace was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, Topkapi was the home of every Ottoman emperor.

 

 

 

 The story is set in 1907. How easy was it to find sources of information from the period?

 

In the past, history was always written from the top down so I wasn’t surprised to find the lives of ordinary people sparsely documented. I did a lot of reading on the political situation and that feeds into the novel (lightly, I hope!) – it was a febrile time with mass discontent at the autocratic rule of the sultan and all kinds of plots to bring about democratic rule. The sultan in A Tale of Two Sisters is the last of his line to rule and a few years later in the aftermath of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire itself disappeared. There was a lot of material, too, on the heirarchy of power within the imperial family and the way in which the slavery system functioned. I found this very interesting since it was so different from that operating in the US and the Caribbean. Slavery as a way to climb the social ladder took some digesting!

 

Now – back to those sisters! Tell us a bit about them.

 

Lydia Verinder has been in Constantinople for over a year, since she was bundled out of England to escape punishment for a suffragette ‘crime’. She is there to work as a governess to the daughters of Sultan Selim, but her elder sister, Alice, has not heard from her for months. Alice suspects thoughtlessness – Lydia has always been indulged – but she’s worried.

 

Two years ago, the sisters’ sibling, Charlie, suffered a fatal accident and as a result their parents’ health has gone badly downhill. Alice has been forced to take responsibility for the London household and her feelings for Lydia are decidedly mixed. She loves her sister and admires Lydia’s courage and passion, but feels resentful that she has been left caring for their parents. She decides, completely out of character, to go to Constantinople herself and search for Lydia.

 

The narrative moves back and forth between the two sisters, each story a shadow of the other, and as the drama unfolds, Alice is forced to confront difficult emotions.

 

 

Are they new characters or have they been bobbing about inside your head for ages, waiting for their turn to be written into a book?

 

I think that probably Alice has been at the back of my mind for some time. On the surface, she is the rather dull, dutiful Edwardian daughter we all know, whereas her younger sister is a free spirit – impulsive, passionate, full of fun. Yet, Alice has passion, too, though she does her best to subdue it. You can see it in the lacy silk petticoat she wears beneath a sensible skirt and buttoned blouse. And in the decision to travel alone to a country she has barely heard of. I wanted to release her from this self-imposed purdah – but I couldn’t make her journey to freedom an easy one!

 

 

 

Is there another character you are particularly fond of? One who perhaps ended up demanding a bigger part in the story than you were expecting?

 

If there is one, it’s my political plotter, Ismet Kaya. He’s a handsome and intelligent man and naturally Lydia falls under his spell. Ismet is well–educated, Westernised in his attitudes and committed to political reform. Anyone would like him. But ultimately he proved a difficult character to write because although he has good qualities in abundance and plays a pivotal role in the plot, he couldn’t be depended on when the chips were down.

 

 

How much of a planner are you? Do you plot everything in advance before you start writing?

 

I wouldn’t want to plot the novel chapter by chapter – that way I’d lose the excitement of not quite knowing where the story was going. I have to feel certain of where I’m starting, though, and where I hope to finish – with maybe a few scenes in my mind of how to get there. But these can change, characters can refuse to ‘fit’ my early ideas. In which case, all I can do is go with the flow.

 

Merryn, many thanks for joining me today and answering my questions. Thanks also for bringing the wonderful photos with you! I wish you every success with A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

 

* * * *

 

 

Merryn's links:

 

Her Amazon author page   

 

Her website   

 

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Pinterest page    

 

 

 

A Writing Retreat - the Writers' Treat.

Posted on 15th March, 2019

This past week I have been on a writing retreat with fellow writers Maddie Please, Jane Ayres, Christina Banach, Chris Manby and Kirsten Hesketh. We hired a beautiful old house deep in the Powys countryside. The photograph above is deceptive. The house was like the TARDIS, with lots of rooms.

 

The sitting room was big enough for each of us to have our own settee. All working together in here one afternoon was one of the week's highlights.
Ever tried lighting a wood burning stove in high winds? Not a good idea! Smoke belched forth into the room.

Maddie and Jane iced a cke with mini unicorns for Kirsten's birthday.

 

What? Champagne? Us?

 

I am delighted to welcome Lally Brown to my blog this week.  A talented photographer, Lally now lives on the Isle of Wight, but she previously lived on Montserrat, which inspired her books, The Volcano, Montserrat and Me; High and Dry in the BVI; and The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena.

 

Lally has agreed to take part in the Take Two Characters series and has produced an interesting take on the subject, not just because her own books are based on true events, but also because she has interpreted the second part of the brief - choosing a favourite character from another author's writing - rather more widely than previous guests have done.

 

* * * *

 

 

When Susanna invited me to contribute a post for her “Take Two Characters” series I was hugely flattered (I’m a great admirer of Susanna’s novels!) and I knew without hesitation which two characters I would choose.

 

I’m delighted to be able to share them with you, although I am slightly apprehensive that you might think my choices unusual and my second possibly even a little frivolous, however here goes.

 

Up first is a character from my own writing, the beautiful aristocratic French Countess Françoise-Elisabeth (Fanny) Bertrand.

 

I should explain that Fanny is not a fictional character but an historical figure and her unusual and unhappy story is entirely fact-based and the result of research into primary source manuscripts in the British Library and on the island of St. Helena.

 

Most people know that after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to remote St Helena, what few realise is that he was accompanied by an entourage of twenty-four, and among them was

my heroine Fanny Bertrand, her husband and their three children aged 4, 5 and 6.

 

Like Napoleon’s first wife Josephine, to whom she was related, Fanny was a Creole born in Martinique. Tall and elegant she was beautiful, spirited, excitable, and very passionate.

 

Fanny’s marriage was arranged on the orders of Napoleon and was not a love match. In fact Fanny was most unflattering about her future husband complaining to Napoleon ‘he looks like the Pope’s monkey!’

 

However against all odds the two did become very fond of each other, possibly because they were such opposite characters. Her husband was Napoleon’s Grand Marshal. He was much older, very quiet and quite simply rather boring, whereas Fanny loved fashionable clothes, parties and having fun. She was very popular and shone in high society. Her husband called her his ‘fiery Creole’.

 

When she heard her husband had agreed to accompany Napoleon into exile Fanny was distraught. The thought of living on a remote island in exile with her embittered ex-Emperor horrified her. She begged herhusband not to go, even attempting to throw herself overboard into the harbour. But loyalty and duty to his Emperor and a belief that the exile would be short-lived decided him.

 

Fanny was sea sick for much of the journey to St. Helena, and when she saw the rugged bleak outline of the island for the first time she was appalled and is quoted as saying to Napoleon “The devil sh*t this place as he flew from one continent to the other”.

 

It was not the short exile Napoleon had hoped, instead he was to die on the island and the little Bertrand family remained on St. Helena for over five years. It was a time of great stress and sadness for poor Fanny.

 

She hated the island and was deeply unhappy with no friends, no society, restrictions imposed upon her by both Napoleon and the British Governor, and although one son was born successfully she suffered several dangerous miscarriages. The final straw came when towards the end of his life Napoleon demanded that Fanny become his mistress. That was just too much for poor Fanny, she refused absolutely and again begged her husband to leave. Napoleon was humiliated and angry and never forgave the couple saying that ‘her husband should have prostituted his wife and that he ought to have made up her mind for her when she proved refractory.’ Napoleon took his revenge by spreading malicious untrue rumours about Fanny’s infidelity with British Officers and refusing to see her until he was on his death-bed.

 

Fanny, her husband and four children left St. Helena three weeks after Napoleon’s death. Pardoned by the French Government they returned to a quiet life at their château in France. Fanny died of cancer fifteen years later.

 

For two years I lived in the house they built for Fanny on St Helena. Her presence was with me daily. But no-one could tell me anything about her except that her ghost, dressed in black mourning clothes, was supposed to haunt the house. So I determined to research the story of this unhappy and forgotten ‘Fiery Creole’ on St Helena who was forced against her will into exile with ex-Emperor Napoleon. The more I discovered the more I admired this resilient, strong willed, unhappy woman who was controlled absolutely by the men in her life.

 

*

 

 

My second choice could so easily have been the lovely Russian Countess Anna Karenina or the dashing Fitzwilliam Darcy, that aloof romantic hero in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (sigh!) but instead I have chosen a character who has been a favourite in my family for four generations, the adorable little bear Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.

 

My mother, an accomplished actress, read ‘Tales of Pooh’ to me when I was an infant and I honestly believe this little bear had a profound influence on shaping the person I was to become. He certainly inspired me to write my first ‘poem’ when I was six and his pearls of wisdom are as pertinent today as they were when the book was first published in 1926.

 

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

 

Love is taking a few steps backwards, maybe even more, to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

 

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

 

My mother’s 3rd Edition copy (1935) of ‘Tales of Pooh’ has been handed down and read to each new generation. Looking a bit battered now but still much loved.

 

By his own admission Pooh was not the sharpest tool in the box “For I am a bear of little brain and long words bother me” who was “short, fat and proud of that”. Maybe he was a little naïve but so kind-hearted, brave, surprisingly wise, very sociable, a steadfast friend and a talented poet. In my opinion an all-round happy-go-lucky great guy!

 

Well it’s almost eleven o’clock so I’m off to get a little smackerel of something before I slip out for a game of Poohsticks before returning for lunch ..... Hurrah for Pooh!

 

 

Lally's Links:

Her Twitter page

 

The Countess, Napoleon and St Helena

 

The Volcano, Montserrat and Me 

 

 

High and Dry in the BVI 

 

 

 

This week, my Take Two Characters series continues with a guest post by Kate Field.  Kate's contemporary novels delve into the complexities of relationships and family life.

 

Her debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the Romantic Novelists' Association' s Joan Hessayon Award. This was followed by The Truth About You, Me and Us and The Winter That Made Us. She also contributed one of the stories to the short story collection, Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings. Kate's latest book is The Man I Fell In Love With.

I was delighted when Susanna asked me to take part in her new blog feature, because it sounded such an interesting idea. The timing was perfect too: my post was scheduled for February, the month that my latest book was due to be published, which spared me a tricky decision over which of my characters to choose!

 

The lead character in The Man I Fell in Love With is Mary Black. Mary has been contentedly married to her best friend, Leo, for almost twenty years, and she’s at the centre of a close-knit family – so close, that her mother lives in the converted garage, and Leo’s mother lives next door! Her family, and especially her two teenage children, are everything to her and so her world is shattered when, in the opening chapter of the book, she discovers that Leo has fallen in love with another man.

 

What would you do?

 

The idea of the story came to me when I heard about a similar situation, and I wondered if there were any circumstances in which a wife would support her husband in his new relationship.

 

Mary wandered into my mind during the course of that day, and I abandoned the book I’d been planning to write so I could tell her story instead.

 

Not everyone will agree with the way Mary reacts; some readers will think that she should have been angry or taken revenge. I’m not saying that Mary’s choice is the right one, or the best one, and I’m certainly not sure that I could behave in the same way. But it is her choice, because of what has happened to her in the past, and because she wants to protect her children. I think it would take real strength to hide your own pain and put your family first.

 

I loved writing about Mary; she’s loyal and determined, funny and kind, and I hope that readers will root for her as she reshapes her life, and agree that her story has the ending she deserves!

I pondered for a long time about which other character to choose. My ‘go to’ answer for every question about a favourite book or character always involves Persuasion by Jane Austen, so I tried to think of something else. But the more I thought about Mary Black, and how much I admired her quiet strength, the more I realised that I liked the same thing about Anne Elliot, the lead character in Persuasion.

 

I was lucky enough to study Persuasion for my English Literature A level, but I was the only student in my class who liked the book – my teacher even wrote a tongue-in-cheek message in my autograph book when I left school, to say that I was the only one who really understood it!

 

Like Mary Black, Anne puts her own happiness last: she gives up the man she loves because she’s persuaded by the maternal figure in her life that it’s the best thing to do. Years later, they meet again, and the book is full of agony and joy as she sees him attracted to someone else, but eventually return to her.

 

 

Anne is a quiet, bookish character, past her bloom as Jane Austen puts it, but she’s kind and understanding, and her true strength is shown in a crisis. I first encountered her when I was a shy, insecure teenager, and she’s stayed with me because her story gave me reassurance that it’s okay not to be the loudest person in the room, and that even quiet characters can have an important role to play.

 

Kate's Links:

Twitter: @katehaswords

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateFieldAuthor

The Man I Fell in Love With: Kindle edition

Kate's author page on Amazon

 

A Matter of Single-Mindedness

Posted on 1st February, 2019

Going back a few years, I worked in a place where the offices were in different buildings - an arrangement called “hen and chickens” - a large building in the middle with smaller ones around it. I worked in one of the “chickens” and four days out of five, I was first to arrive. Each day I popped into the “hen” to pick up our post, then unlocked our building and, having taken the key from the key-safe, unlocked the secretary’s office to put the post on her desk.

 

I switched on the water-boiler in the staffroom, so others would arrive to a hot drink. After that, I turned on the computers in the main suite, including logging into all of them and opening the appropriate programs. Only then did I go down the corridor to my own room.

 

That happened four days a week. On the fifth day, a colleague – let’s call her Maggie – arrived first. I would arrive about twenty minutes later…. to find the post hadn’t been collected, the hot water hadn’t been switched on and the computers hadn’t been touched. Even the lights were off. Maggie had simply marched straight to her room without even switching on the light in the corridor.

 

I’ll be honest – I resented it. But then I pictured how she was immediately getting started on her work and decided to give her technique a go. But on the one occasion I swept inside and headed straight for my room, I felt so guilty when the next person arrived and started setting things up, that I never did it again.

 

Yes, Maggie’s behaviour annoyed me – but d’you know something? I admired it too. Imagine being single-minded enough to ignore the “polite” need to do the setting up for everyone else.

 

Maggie has flitted across my mind a few times in recent months. When I was made redundant from my day job last summer, I took the plunge and became a full-time writer. Should I now adopt Maggie’s attitude to work? Is this a good way to be, if you are a writer – or indeed anyone else who is self-employed?

 

It worked well in November when I used NaNoWriMo to plough my way towards the end of a book. My attitude then was “Tell me if the house is on fire but otherwise leave me alone,” and, with the cooperation of the rest of the household, this worked. It worked to the tune of 66,000 words.

 

But... I couldn’t be like that all the time. It isn’t me. And it would be unpleasant for the rest of the household.

 

But... should it be me? This is now my job. Should I adopt a tougher attitude?

 

The way I have got round this, is by regularly “going out to work”, ie by taking my writing elsewhere... leaving behind my redecorated, re-carpeted and freshly curtained office, complete with the pretty, Edwardian desk that was a present from my husband and the view of Mount Snowdon in the distance.

 

Thoughts, anyone?

 

 

Today I welcome to my blog my good friend and fellow Sister Scribe, Cass Grafton, to share the latest in the Take Two Characters series, in which authors choose a favourite character of their own, and a favourite of someone else's, to tell us about.

 

Take it away, Cass!

 

* * * * *

 

I’m delighted to be participating in Take Two Characters on Susanna’s blog, despite the stress I endured trying to pick only two characters to write about (something I share with Jen Gilroy, Susanna’s previous guest on this new feature)! I’ve been a bookworm for all my life - how was I to pick just two I found memorable?

 

In the end, I let circumstance be my guide. We live in Switzerland at the moment, and I had to leave many boxes of books behind in storage in the UK. The books on my shelves here are the ones I felt I just couldn’t live without for a few years, the ones I love to browse or re-read.

 

My eyes drifted over books by JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, Daphne du Maurier, Jilly Cooper, Marian Keyes and Jane Austen before falling on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and I knew it was the answer.

 

For a character from one of my own books, I turned to a novel co-written with Ada Bright, one of my best friends, namely The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen. Who knew, of all the characters I could have chosen, both would share a common first name?

 

When we first started to brainstorm the plot for The Particular Charm, one thing Ada and I were clear on was that Jane would not be a main character. Writing her was going to be too difficult! How could we ever make her believable, capture the right tone of wit? Yes, we’d let the two female leads of the story take centre stage, and Jane would just be there, in the background... except Jane Austen didn’t agree.

 

She grabbed the plot with two hands and in the end became quite the star of the show, so much so, we had readers telling us they missed her when she wasn’t in scenes!

Photo by Steve Scheidler

 

 

In the story, Jane has slipped through time from 1803, when she was living in Bath, to the present day just as the annual Jane Austen Festival kicks off, only to become trapped here. Having left the past before any of her books were published, everything to do with her is wiped from history. Jane Austen is nothing more than an unsolved missing person case from early 19th century Bath!

 

Relishing being freed from the restraints of her life 200 years away, Jane begins to enjoy the 21st century and everything it offers to a single young woman of 27, but what about her lost literary legacy? How can it be restored?

 

It was important we did all we could to make Jane appealing to readers, credible in her incredible situation, and also ensuring she would be ‘familiar’ to readers who knew a lot about her life and background. In the end, it was great fun writing her, and she was a joy to be around.

 

As much as Jane Austen in our book was ‘ahead’ in time, Jane Eyre was, for me, a heroine very much ahead of her time.

 

I studied Jane Eyre at school and since then have re-read the novel umpteen times.

 

As an insecure teen when I first met her, I was taken by her inner strength and her sense of self-worth. She was an orphan, abused by the relatives raising her, yet she wasn’t afraid to speak up, to stand up for herself and for others - even as a child. Criticised for being passionate of nature, Jane refused to be intimidated and stood firmly by her principles. Despite the Victorian prejudices against women and the poor, Jane believed in gender and social equality. She also had a deep faith, which guided her actions.

 

I’ve never lost my admiration for her, and I’m still in awe of her courage, her fierce determination in the face of adversity and her quest for freedom and the future she deserves, despite all the challenges placed before her - ones which tested both her heart and her faith.

 

Susanna, thank you so much for the chance to visit your blog and participate in this feature. It really made me think about what makes a character memorable!

 

* * * *

 

Reading for Solace

Posted on 5th January, 2019

This isn't a new blog post. It is a guest post I wrote some time ago for a fellow writer's website. It was very well received and, as the hosting website has been offline for some time undergoing re-structuring, I decided to re-produce the article here.

 

I hope you enjoy it and that it givevs you something to think about.

 

* * * *

 

Reading for Solace

 

A while back, Maggie wrote a blog post covering the various reasons why people choose to read fiction. It was a lively and interesting post, but I felt there was one reason missing: reading for solace. So what does that mean? Obviously, it is closely linked to reading for escapism, but it is a specific type of escapist reading.

Solace. According to the Concise OED my parents gave me one Christmas years ago, and which remains my favourite dictionary no matter how many more modern dictionaries have climbed onto the bookcase since, solace is: comfort in distress or discomfort or tedium.

Now I must confess I didn't have tedium in mind when I wrote a reply to Maggie's blog. It was distress I was thinking of.

So what is reading for solace? The best way to explain it is to give you an example. My dad died in his 60s, which came as a brutal shock to the family. Through that first week, I stayed with my mum. Understandably, she had trouble sleeping, but after the first couple of nights, she came downstairs in the morning and showed me a book.

“This stopped me going mad,” she said.

Was it a self-help book? A discussion of grief or widowhood? No, it was a novel. The book that had got my mum through the first endless nights was a story.

I wish I could tell you what it was, but I can't. All I can tell you, based on my mum's reading habits, is that it was written by a woman (or by a man using a woman's name) and the plot was set at some point after the building of the railways. I seem to recall it was a contemporary novel, but I couldn't swear to it.

I remember years ago reading an interview with Dick Francis, who described receiving a letter from a man who had lost a companion in a car accident. The accident happened in the middle of nowhere; no other vehicle was involved. The man walked until he found a phone box, then he returned to the car to await help, knowing his companion was dead. Assistance took a couple of hours to arrive and the man started to read a book that had belonged to his late companion – a Dick Francis novel. In the letter he subsequently wrote, he thanked Dick Francis for keeping his mind off a tragic situation.

Another example that comes to mind is linked to the person who introduced me to the phrase “reading for solace” – a former boss of mine, the late Wendy Drewett, who for many years was the head of library services for children and schools in Buckinghamshire. There was nothing Mrs Drewett didn't know about children's and teenagers' books. She knew about authors, reading development, dyslexia, avid readers, reluctant readers... you name it. Above all, she knew about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.

In the course of her career, she worked alongside many families, teachers and schools and it was from her that I first heard the words “reading for solace” in connection with children who live with a chronic condition that means they cannot lead an ordinary physical life. (Maybe there is an element of comfort in tedium here?)

An example of this is the wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff, who suffered from juvenile arthritis from the age of two, which left her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. Although she famously didn't learn to read until she was nine (why bother when she had such a gifted storyteller for a mother?), she grew up on a diet of legends, myths and folk tales; and it was these, together with her ability to examine things close to her in minute detail, that occupied her mind and her imagination.

Reading for solace? I don't imagine for one moment that Rosemary Sutcliff thought of it that way, any more than the reader of the Dick Francis novel did at the time – any more than my mother did at the time. I don't think it's something you do consciously. I think it's something that, in certain circumstances, simply happens; and you don't realise until afterwards.

What do you think?

And if the author of the book my mum read is reading this blog – thank you.

 

After the daily blog all through November keeping you up to date with my NaNoWriMo progress (huge thanks to those of you who dropped by every day), it's time for 'normal service' to be resumed and this week I am thrilled to welcome back Jen Gilroy to my blog to share two of her favourite fictional people in the Take Two Characters series.

 

 

Take Two Characters:

 

Jen Gilroy Chooses Two of Her Favourite Fictional People

 

I was delighted when Susanna asked me to take part in this series on her blog. Not only is she a dear friend, but she’s also a favourite blogger and I’m always happy to visit here and chat with her readers.

However, I must confess that her request to choose two favourite fictional characters, one from my own books and one in a book by another author, was challenging. As a reader, I have so many favourite fictional characters. How could I choose only one? And as an author, I’m attached to my characters as a mum is attached to her children. Choosing one over all the others smacked of favouritism!

 

 

The decision was made, though, when Susanna noted that this guest post aligns with the first book birthday for Back Home at Firefly Lake, the third book in my series of small-town romantic contemporaries set in Firefly Lake, Vermont.

As I celebrate that milestone, I’m also celebrating one of the characters in Back Home at Firefly Lake, Cat (Catherine) McGuire who has much in common with one of my favourite characters created by another author, Valancy Stirling from Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle.

 

Cat returns to Firefly Lake

 

Cat appears in my first two Firefly Lake books from a brief reference in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to small appearances in Summer on Firefly Lake. When the time came to give her a story of her own, she’d already lived in my head for over a year.

b

Single mom, daughter, sister and sympathetic friend to many of the other characters, Cat is someone who has never felt comfortable in her own skin, or in Firefly Lake. Academically gifted, she’s happy in the world of books…until, all of a sudden, she isn’t.

 

h

When in her mid-thirties, life brings her back to Firefly Lake, she has to confront the awkward teen she once was and face her fears (including her childhood crush, ice hockey pro Luc Simard) to finally become the woman she truly wants to be in life, work, and love.

 

Every book I write is, at some level, a story of female transformation and empowerment and Cat is no exception. In the end, and while she earns her happy ending with Luc (the story is a romance!), she also gains so much more—confidence in who she is and what she wants in all aspects of her life, not only in a romantic relationship.

 

Valancy and her Blue Castle

More than ninety years before Cat McGuire, Valancy Stirling appeared in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, first published in 1926 and, in contrast to the much better known Anne of Green Gables, one of the few Montgomery books defined as ‘adult’ fiction.

 

 

A ‘spinster’ at the age of twenty-nine, Valancy lives a life of dull routine, dominated by her narrow-minded family and gossipy rural community. With limited education, no practical skills except for cooking, and at a time where women of her social background had few options in the world of work, she finds escape in reading.

 

But when she receives a supposedly devastating medical diagnosis, she decides, for the first time in her life, to truly live.

 h

Letting go of her fear of what her family and society will think, she finds meaningful work caring for a childhood acquaintance who became pregnant while unmarried (shocking for that time and place) and, in the end, finds her happy ending and a fulfilling life with an intriguing man with a mysterious past.

 

In the tradition of much contemporary women’s fiction, she becomes her ‘best self’ inside and out—including having the last laugh on her snobbish family.

 

My two favourite characters

Although Cat and Valancy are different women living at different times and in different contexts, they are nevertheless similar in how they face their fears, seize life, and don’t let their pasts continue to shape their futures.

 

That possibility of change and, correspondingly growing through challenges, motivates and shapes my own life. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it’s also reflected in the characters that speak to me most as a reader, as well as those who people my books—and it’s why Cat and Valancy each have a special place in my heart.

 

Jen’s links

 

Website: www.jengilroy.com

Blog: http://www.jengilroy.com/category/blog/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenGilroyAuthor

Twitter: www.twitter.com/JenGilroy1

 

 

About Jen

Jen Gilroy worked in higher education and international marketing and business development before trading the corporate 9-5 to write contemporary romance and women’s fiction with heart, home, and happy endings. 

After many years living and working in England, she returned to where her roots run deep and lives in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Canada with her husband, teen daughter and a floppy-eared hound. When she’s not writing, Jen enjoys reading, travel, singing, and ballet. She’s also known for her love of ice cream, shoes, and vintage finds.

Jen’s first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake (and first book in her Firefly Lake series), was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart® award in 2015. It was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Joan Hessayon Award 2017.

She’s a member of RWA, RNA, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).