Of all the many books I have written, THE CHATELAINE – the first of the historical family saga I called ‘The Rochford Trilogy’, is my favourite. The first saga was more or less written to outlines provided by a literary agent hitherto unknown to me. He was aware I had had over thirty light romantic novels published and persuaded me there was a dearth of historical sagas in the States. I said I would have a try!
The trilogy, The Women of Fire, (shortly to be published by Piatkus) went straight into the bestseller list in the States and was reprinted thirteen times in the first year. However, I now found I was enjoying this new genre of writing, and a report in an article about a missing baby started me wondering what had happened to the child. This evoked ideas which led to THE CHATELAINE.
By the time I wrote Chapter 1 of this book, I had learned how to go about plotting these lengthy sagas. I had begun my first effort in the same way I had written the light romances – put a piece of paper in the typewriter, type Chapter 1, and plough straight on to the happy ending. My first effort at a saga came to an abrupt halt when I discovered an elderly retainer serving drinks in Chapter 1, had reached the age of 120 but was still the family butler by Chapter 3! Likewise, a pregnant dairy maid had, poor girl, remained pregnant for two and a half years. Consequently, I devised a working chart and by the time I was writing THE CHATELAINE, I was minus these interruptions to the creative flow, so its creation was a lot less hard work and great fun to do. I’m happy to pass on a copy of my chart to any young aspiring author!
When planning a book, I choose a period of history which suits my story rather than the other way round. Historical data is secondary to the story itself although an historical event may trigger part of the plot. Educated on serials in women’s magazines in my youth, I aim to end each chapter with my reader desperate to start the next! I get so involved with my characters by the end of a book I want to write more about them – hence the trilogies.
Starting a book is always a bad time for me. I want to get on and tell the story in my head, and although I know the major characters, I have to describe them to the reader who can’t see into my mind! Red hair, blue eyes, quick tempered etc, etc. I note these down in a character description book so I don’t suddenly make a man ‘tower menacingly’ above his companion when he’s unusually short and fat. They must also behave in a way true to their character as I’m sure this is the way to make a reader believe in them just as they have become real to me. I have sometimes had serious discussions with my secretary as to whether a character should do or say something, both of us forgetting that a fictitious character can do or say whatever the author wants! They do become very real, even to the point where, when editing a chapter in a book called FROST IN THE SUN, I felt close to tears near the end – silly, I suppose, but that’s how real they seem.
People interest me enormously – far more than what they are wearing, what they look like. It’s one of the reasons I find young children so fascinating. They get to the core of a person and disregard the trimmings. I am impatient when I have to stop the action to dress who someone who I can see in my mind but have to remember the reader needs to be told the facts.
I have been writing books since I was ten years old, probably because my mother was an author and encourage me to do so – partly to divert my imagination into less disruptive channels than was my wont in those early days. It is close on a century ago that she began writing light romances for Mills and Boon and even now, is still read extensively in the libraries. People often say they don’t believe she wrote as many as 200 books, but I myself wrote three of these simple love stories every year, hence my uncompetitive total of 80!
Last week, one of my granddaughters telephoned me to say she had started reading an old copy of THE CHATELAINE which was the only book to hand, and that it had kept her awake most of the night and made her late for work next day. This gave me almost as much pleasure as when a woman came up to me after one of my talks to libraries, and said THE DYNASTY had enabled her to cope when for hours and days on end, she had sat by her terminally ill husband’s bedside. It had, she said, enabled her to escape into another world.
When I am writing a book, I am indeed in another world. I lose count of time and dare not leave anything in the oven lest for the umpteenth time, I ruin yet another casserole or cake. I have a timer on my desk to remind me I am due somewhere and I must leave my world and return to reality.
Do I enjoy writing? I don’t know how to answer that. All I can say is that when I get an idea for a plot, it nags me like a bad headache until I can get it down on paper and out of my mind. I am near completion of a new saga at the moment, and none too happy to set it aside in order to write this when I should be getting my current heroine out of her crashed car before it is too late!