A Question for Romance Writer Kate Walker

‘You mentioned in your talk (April 2016) that you took inspiration for one of your heroes from an interview with a chap on the radio. You have 65 different heroes; where do you get them from and with that many, how do you ever come up with different appearances for them, surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero?’

 

Your question chimes in well with my overall approach to writing popular ‘category’ romance; one that I always say is the most important consideration when I’m teaching. 12PointGuideKWAnd that is character. Romance writing has been established so long (since 1908 in the case of Mills and Boon) that it’s very difficult – if not just about impossible – to be really original when writing this mass-market genre. But the thing that keeps me fresh, again and again, is writing about the different characters I create, and telling their stories to the reader. I find myself fascinated by – and perhaps falling a little in love myself – by my hero and heroine, particularly the heroes. That way I can hope to create a fascinating, flawed and exciting man, who will entice his heroine – and my readers along with her. It certainly seems to be that way as my books have been selling, and republished in so many languages for over 30 years now.

A romance novel is the story of the emotional journey of the two central characters from first meeting (or reunion) to the sort of love that will lead to the ‘happy ever after ending the reader is hoping for. Each character is different – some heroes are the fantasy sheikhs that are still popular, such as in my duo of linked books A Question of Honour and Destined for the Desert King some are Spanish or Greek, some artists, some are sportsmen. . . And it is that individuality that, when combined with the heroine’s own personal; story, makes the ‘emotional journey’ different each time.

So – when you ask where I get my heroes from – the answer is that, as with every sort of story writing, ideas can be found anywhere in life. In newspapers, magazines, on the TV – in drama or documentaries. Something will provide a ‘seed’ that can be planted to make me think what would happen if . . .? And to develop a story from there. The man on the radio I heard – in your example the Italian Forced Bride ItaliansForcedBride– was telling how he had been a foundling, abandoned by his mother, without ever knowing his parents or family. That sparked my interest and I wondered ‘what if. . .’ that man met a heroine, fathered a child. . . And what would that heroine be like? How would she react to him? Asking those questions gives me my characters’ stories. And because my characters are all different in their ages, nationalities, interests, careers, family backgrounds (that’s what helps keep my interest in writing their stories fresh) then each book/each hero and heroine has its own individual plot, its individual flavour and atmosphere.

The line ‘tall dark and handsome’ is really just a form of shorthand for the type of hero that romance writers create. What it really means is that the hero has to be the man who would most appeal to the heroine when she meets him and begins to fall in love with him. This is the way it should be because, to a woman in love, the hero will be the most attractive man she has seen. But of course heroines come in all shapes and sizes – some are five feet nothing, and some over six feet tall. Obviously, a very different sort of man would be ‘tall’ to either of those. And we will have our favourite sorts of looks that we find appealing. Life would be terribly boring if we all liked the same sort of man. So the reader sees the hero through the eyes of the heroine in the story – and vice versa.

AQuestionOfHonorIt’s well known that the ‘tall dark and handsome’ is the type of hero who is most popular the world over, but often the heroine might start out thinking that this particular man is not really that appealing. Rochester, after all, is stern-featured, heavy-browed, craggy-faced, rude, abrupt – at the beginning – but he fascinates Jane Eyre and then that fascination grows into something more. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice is acknowledged to have a ‘fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien’ . . .’till his manners gave a disgust which turned to tide of his popularity.’ But as the novel progresses, the feelings of the heroine(s) change – just as his feelings about her are changing.

I’ve always written these stories by concentrating my focus overall on the characters I’m writing about. So perhaps the answer to your question is really that ‘surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero’ . . . for each heroine.

December Competition Winners 2013

report by Celia Livesey

‘Write a new beginning for Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged… 200 words.

We were very pleased to welcome Sandra Cain as our adjudicator. Sandra is a Senior Lecturer in creative and media writing, communications and public relations at Southampton Solent University, and has published eleven books, the latest being Media Writing, A Practical Introduction (with Dr Craig Batty) and Key Concepts in Public Relations, both published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Sandra’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Sally Russell, New Boy in Town

A satirical, contemporary take on the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice with a bold and exciting use of the vernacular … resulting in a written piece bubbling with enthusiastic glee.

This tells the tale of a mother looking for a suitable match for her daughters, in a veritable honey-pot hot spot favoured by ex-pats of dubious character.

***

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother wants the best possible match for her daughters.

“’Ere, Jase,” said Candice, “told ya someone’d bought the Chateau. Saw a Maserati drivin’ up the hill.”

“..an’ a Corsa, Ma,” added Tyler, scratching a pimple. “’ad a bangin’ spoiler.”

“Guess who it is,” urged Candice.

Jason dangled his arm over the side of the sun lounger and grabbed a beer from the ice bucket, the water droplets sizzling in the heat as they hit the patio. He took a slurp then swiveled his cap round so the peek pointed forwards, and lay back, his head resting on the air pillow.

“Tell me if you must,” he mumbled, beer leaking from the side of his mouth. He stroked the long dark hairs on his fat belly and belched.

“Barnaby Smith,” she announced excitedly.

“Geezer who did Lloyd’s in Chelmsford?”

“That’s the one,” said Candice, and squeezed her hands together in anticipation. “He’s loaded.”

“So? Didn’t do so bad ourselves.”

“No, but Ellie-Mae or Chantelle’d be made up if they got wiv ‘im.”

Jason sighed.

And that’s how Barnaby “Smiffy” Smith, the blond, bronzed, medallion-wearing new boy in town, became a person of interest.

Sue and Sally
Sue and Sally

2nd Prize: Gill Hollands, (untitled)

A fun and flighty piece of writing with a quip on the name of Bingley. True to the original but with a modern twist to a classic story.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a Porsche must have the time of his life. However little we know about him, the car clearly shows his status and intentions. This truth is so well fixed in modern minds that girls will be drawn to him as a bee to honey, despite the frantic attempts at restraint by their families.

‘Ben,’ said his wife as she twitched down the curtain one day,’ the perv with the Porsche is back.’

‘Is he a perv?’

‘Lily told me all about him.’

Ben went back to his copy of The Sun.

‘Don’t you want to know who he is?’ Cried his wife, impatient.

‘You want to tell me. So, get on with it.’ Sighing, he laid down his paper.

`Well Lily says that he’s the son of an antique dealer from the north of England; that he comes down on Mondays to chase the girls. She heard that the car’s on HP. Mr. Morris at the Bradford& Bingley is to take possession before Christmas, unless he coughs up by the end of next week.’

`Hmm. If he keeps the Porsche, I’ll have to watch he doesn’t take a fancy to you then…’

3rd Prize: Sue Spiers, (untitled)

An accomplished piece of writing written in the style of nineteenth century prose, sustained with wit, charm and elegance.

It is a truth universally acknowledged…that a beautiful woman is more acceptable as a wealthy man’s wife than a woman who has wit as her first accomplishment. A beautiful woman will grace the home of a duke as easily as a man of her father’s rank. A witty woman requires a husband of equal intellect lest she be thought a shrew by his relatives. A woman of wit may choose not to marry if her choices are limited to dullards but this has its own difficulties if her father is unable to support a spinster. A beautiful woman may have no need of needlecraft or musicianship because her admirable figure and amiable company will be enough to keep a line of suitors at her door. Wit rarely allows a plain woman to ascend the steps of enviable matches unless she is wise enough to make the best of her meagre attractions. It is a rare man who favours book learning over charming coiffeurs and a rarer woman who prefers to see her sisters married before she has received any man into her affections.

Highly Commended: Sally Russell, Day of the Peahen
A quirky re-telling with a clucking mother hen desperate to secure a good catch for her chicks. Plenty of shrieking, ducking and scurrying to set the scene.

Highly Commended: David Eadsforth, (untitled), pseudonym Geoff Stuart

A fast-paced piece written a la Austen but from the more masculine point of view of Mr Bennett. The well-placed military references to strategy and skirmishes foreground the romantic battles to come.

 

The prizes were a selection of signed paperbacks by John Mullan and a Certificate of Adjudication signed by Sandra Cain.
In Conclusion:
Only ten entries were received for the December competitions, and it is possible that the subject did put some people off. However, Sandra said she had enormous fun pondering the competition entries, and also enjoys helping writers to get their work noticed, talked about and sold.