Sunday, September 5, 2010
The first time I ever showed a manuscript in progress to my mother, she read it through and handed it back to me with a question about my heroine: "Why," she asked, "isn't her mother calling her?"
The book was Mariana, and my mother, as usual, was absolutely right. I'd had my heroine, Julia, selling her London flat, buying a house in Wiltshire, and having all sorts of adventures, without ever once ringing her parents to tell them about it. In the real world, I knew, my parents would have had quite a lot to say if I'd done likewise. My father, an engineer (shown above with a rather more adorably younger version of me) would have made a close inspection of my newly-purchased house to test its structure, and my mother would have turned up ready to help with the cleaning and wallpapering.
In what amounted to a writerly epiphany, I realized that my characters weren't moving in a real world, where their actions were affected and determined by their families, as my own were. Reading the manuscript over again, even I began wondering why Julia's mother wasn't calling her, and I had to rewrite to account for it. (In the end, I had to send Julia's parents on holiday to New Zealand for part of the story, where they could have opinions but not change the plot..)
Since then, I've tried to take more care when writing so my heroines (and heroes) don't move in a vacuum. Whether the influence of family is positive or negative, it should always be there, even when the family members themselves are absent.
While planning for this post, I asked my mother whether she could think of any great romantic novels in which families played a vital role. It started an interesting discussion, and after considering and ruling out stories where the family was the focus of the story, like The Shell-Seekers, we settled on a book we both loved: Mary Stewart's This Rough Magic.
The heroine, Lucy, is in Corfu to visit her very pregnant sister, Phyl, and although Lucy manages to be Very Busy during her holiday, she can't simply go off and do what she wants when she wants without checking in with Phyl by phone, or giving some account of where she's been. By the same token, the hero, Max (one of my favourite of Mary Stewart's men, I must say), is himself restricted by the fact he's taking care of his recuperating father. Both characters move in a very real world, and their respective family members move the plot forward in very real ways.
What are your favourite families in romantic novels? Do share.
And be sure to check back again Thursday, when Julie Cohen will be making her first post!