Posted by Anna Sugden May 24 2013, 1:19 am
It’s always a pleasure to welcome back dear friends who are Lair favourites and today is no exception! I’m thrilled that Kate Walker is able to join us in the Lair today – we always have such fun when she visits. You may remember she gave us a teaser in the Coming Attractions post – you’ve had to wait almost the whole month to find out why her 61st book is actually a first! Make yourself comfortable and I’ll leave you in Kate’s very capable hands, while I go and rustle up some celebratory Pimms for everyone. Oh, Sven …
Hello Banditas – friends!
Thank you so much for inviting me to join you again I’m always thrilled to be here. It’s wonderful to be back here in the Lair with you. Really special. Because the truth is that it’s wonderful to have a new book out. It’s been a difficult year since I last visited to chat about the publication of The Devil and Miss Jones and I had to fight a few – complications – to get this new book done. Last time I was celebrating my 60th title and to be honest there were times when I thought my 60th would be my last. But here I am with the 61st title published at the end of this month and I couldn’t be happier to share that with you.
And as well as being something of a triumph over problems, my new book - A Throne For The Taking – is really rather special in another way. When Anna asked me to give a one-liner to give you a taster of what I wanted to chat with you about this time, I said that I would be talking about why my 61st (title that is) is actually a first. And for that, the clue’s in the title! A Throne for the Taking. And the fact that it’s launching the brand- new mini series, Royal And Ruthless, in both Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern Romance in June. Because this book is my very first ever Royal Romance.
I know – I find it hard to think that I’ve never written a book with a Prince hero or a Princess heroine. I’d written 60 different novels, 60 different stories about 60 different heroes and heroines, but none of them had been a prince – or a princess. I’d written about Sheikhs who were already rulers of their desert kingdoms. But I’d never created a hero who was going be a king and rule his own country. As you know, there has been a lot of fuss and attention focussed on the Royal Family here in the UK in the past couple of years – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Prince William’s engagement and That Wedding in April 2 years ago. Now, there is all the buzz and interest in the coming royal baby – speculation as to whether it will be a boy or a girl, and the date it will be born on.
So it was inevitable, I suppose, that all this excitement and interest in the news should make me think about writing my own Royal Romance. But for me the real interest in a Prince hero is that under all the finery and the ceremonial he is in fact just a man. A man with special privileges, special duties, special problems. Because there’s not just the pomp and ceremony that everyone can see, but what goes on ‘behind the scenes’, the private lives that my hero and heroine live. The problems they face and the way they react to each other out of the spotlight, when they have to be just the people – the man and the woman – they really were. It was their story that I wanted to write.
And particularly with this book, because my hero was a very particular type of character – one that took me right back to one of my earliest heroes in a book I loved as a child.
My original title for A Throne For The Taking was The Black Sheep Prince. That’s because I wanted my hero Alexei Sarova to be a man who was alienated – and exiled – from the place that should have been called home. He may be a prince, but it’s not a life he wants to live. He doesn’t feel he belongs to the world that his heroine, Ria (The Grand Duchess Honoria Maria Escalona to give her her full title) has grown up in.
When I was creating Alexei I had a long-ago favourite story in my mind all the time. I read this book when I was very young – it was a long time ago - though not as long ago as it might seem. The book was originally published in 1954.
When I filled in the profile form, for my author page on the Mills & Boon web site, I wanted to include this story but 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. So Simona’s Jewel was all I could include.
This was before I had the internet . A couple of years ago, 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 Babe Magnet needed some musty old tome – which was pretty often – I would hopefully put the precious words ‘Simona’s Jewel’ in the Search as well. 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 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!’ Real mature, grownups!
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, although Michele is not exactly a Prince, it was his character as a hero that was in my mind as I created my own dark, difficult, complicated, defiant Prince. A man who was once Ria’s friend but who, because of his past has turned into someone she now hardly knows; who has grown into a dark and bitter man. A man who will give her his help – but only at a price.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it when we look back and see how the books we once read influenced us. How they spoke to us, gave us the sort of stories we most enjoy, the characters – and heroes – we love. My ‘black sheep prince’ doesn’t ride a horse or wear a cloak, a doublet and hose, but he is that dark, ambiguous hero who finally comes good, finally proves himself to be the man so worthy of his heroine’s love that she couldn’t possibly ever be with anyone else. That was the seed that was planted in my mind when I first read Simona’s Jewel all those years ago. I’ve loved – and written – just that sort of hero ever since. And they still fascinate me every bit as much as they ever did.
What about you? Is there some childhood story that really had you hooked? Some book that really spoke to you, told you the sort of story you wanted to create as you came of age as a writer? Or a character that really hit home, made you fall in love, formed a template for the sort of hero – or heroine you were going to create in the future. I’d love to know. What were your favourite childhood stories- and have you gone back to reread them? Were they still as good as you remembered?
I have a couple of copies of my black sheep Prince story – A Throne for The Taking – for someone who leaves a comment.
You can find out more about Kate and all the rest of her books by visiting her website www.kate-walker.com (don’t forget the dash!)
Posted in Anna Sugden, Harlequin Presents, Kate Walker