Author Abby Green on Innocent Heroines, Wealthy Heroes and "Bride in a Gilded Cage"

by Abby Green, author of Bride in a Gilded Cage (Harlequin Presents, October 2010)

I got an email from a reader the other day who said that she had read Bride in a Gilded Cage and overall enjoyed it but why did the hero have to be so much older than the heroine; why did the heroine have to be a virgin and why did the hero have to be so wealthy?

And it got me thinking about something that’s usually quite subconscious in terms of the decision making process when it comes to writing these books, for me anyway – why do our heroes and heroines have to have, or not have these attributes?

It’s because each of us as a writer is different and when we come up with a story and characters we’re moved to give them a complex set of characteristics and circumstances to make the story work. And that is based very specifically on our own personal mind-set, the books that have influenced us and the writers too.

I think this reader possibly felt that these themes she pointed out were a signature of the books in general, rather than something unique to my particular story, or any other author’s.

My take on it is that these books have evolved steadily over a hundred years since they were first published in England under Mills and Boon. And today, in October 2010, there are well loved themes that the loyal readership look for and expect, just as any of us pick up a favourite author for what they promise to deliver.

These books made a huge impact on me when I was in my teens, with their taut tales of passion, love, revenge, conflict and redemption. It’s why I felt inspired to write them – I wanted to recreate that magic I felt, and I’m sure I’m doing a woeful job of it as nothing I write seems to match up to intensity in my head, or the books I read years ago, but thankfully my Editor doesn’t seem to have noticed just yet! (And hopefully she’s too busy to read this.)

I think the Wealthy Hero, and the Innocent Heroine are in a way, a form of shorthand; we’re reassuring the reader that yes it’s going to be the escapist fantasy you expect, with all the well loved hallmarks. The wealthy hero — because we don’t want to have to read about someone on the way up, he’s already there. The innocent heroine — because we want to feel and share her vulnerability, whatever that might be – lack of experience sexually is just one way of highlighting that, youth is another when equally an older heroine can have her own issues! And as anyone who loves these stories knows, any vulnerability the heroine might feel is well hidden as she stands up to the hero, which only makes her more compelling in my eyes.

Each of us writers are different, and we’re drawn to different themes to tell our stories – Penny Jordan for instance writes heroines who embody a very earthy feminine sexuality and her heroes are men enough to be able to help her heroines own that sensuality and embrace it fully. I couldn’t begin to attempt to write the distinctive kind of heroine Penny does so well. Some of Penny’s scenes are still etched in my brain which is undoubtedly the mark of a great writer and storyteller.

Kate Walker is another who writes gloriously sensual heroines who don’t necessarily know their own power over the hero, who is sometimes erroneously convinced that they do!

Writers like them and many others inspire me all the time. In my current story, my heroine is innocent but pretends to the hero that she’s not, because she’s insecure about the fact that she’s not more experienced and also because she’s terrified of the deeply passionate feelings the hero evokes within her. If she was more experienced, he wouldn’t have such a potent effect on her and it would be a different story. She’s remained innocent purely because it’s her own character trait and I felt it suited her, not because of any other dictate.

My hero is wealthy and older because he’s lived a life and attained a measure of success that only comes with age and experience. He’s battle scarred and cynical, and Isobel the heroine, turns all of his beliefs on their head one by one until she’s the one with all the power by the end; because she has uniquely got to this man, and her innocence plays a big part in that process.

But then, my next book which is loosely linked to this one (In Christofides’ Keeping out next March) has a very different heroine and hero, and a very different set of circumstances. That’s the beauty of Harlequin Presents, the constant refreshing of tried and tested themes and the challenge to make them your own, and different. (Or, in my case the attempt to make them different!)

I’d love to know which themes are your favourites and also do you think they’re still relevant today? I have a copy of Bride in a Gilded Cage for the first person who mentions this blog in an email to me (abbygreen3 [at] with their postal address.

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Comments ( 23 )
  1. MarilynS
    October 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I so loved this book and I honestly didn’t mind the age difference. Loved the tension in the early chapters.

  2. Abby Green
    October 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks so much Marilyn! (Your postie should have some more books arriving soon so keep an eye out ;-)) And thanks to Desere who emailed me for the copy of the book.
    x Abby

  3. Heidi Rice
    October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Ah Abby, your book took me on an amazing adventure, escapist yes, but grounded enough in reality to give it that power and passion that is so much a part of the Presents experience.

    To be honest, I didn’t even notice the age difference between Isobel and Rafael, probably because it was just part and parcel of who they were as people.

    And by the way… ‘I’m doing a woeful job’… are you insane, woman. Your books are superb!

  4. Ros
    October 12, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    There are times when I love that I live in the UK – I’ve read both Bride in a Gilded Cage and In Christofides’ Keeping and adored them both, though Rafael and Isobel have the slight edge for me because I am a total sucker for arranged marriage plots. I thought Isobel was a fabulous character and her virginity was completely plausible in the context of the plot and her character. But what I really adored was Rafael’s journey to love her and to show her that. His declaration scene is one of my top favourites.

    And I completely agree with you that there is a certain set of expectations and shorthands within category romance and although there is some room to play with these, if you stray too far, readers will feel disappointed. I do love the Modern/Presents tropes of the enormously wealthy heroes and their innocent women, but I am even more a fan of the Modern Heat/Presents Extra books with their slightly more realistic settings and more equal relationships. But I do like to know which of these to expect when I pick up a book.

  5. MarilynS
    October 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Ditto, Heidi.

  6. Abby Green
    October 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Heidi your cheque is in the post ;-). Ros thanks for your kind words, and that’s interesting that you like the marriage of convenience plots – do you mind me asking what exactly is it about that storyline that appeals to you so much?
    I’m working on another one at the moment and desperately trying to find ways to make it new and fresh and dynamic. It doesn’t help that I’ve just finished reading Sarah Morgan’s ‘The Sheikh’s Virgin’ for the umpteenth time, it’s too good!
    I’m off to watch ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ now to try and get in the mood for writing a Sultan…it’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it! 🙂
    x Abby

  7. Maisey Yates
    October 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Oh, I loved this book so much, Abby! I just finished it…it was lovely.

    Their circumstances were perfect for them. 🙂

  8. Annie West
    October 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Abby, I read your post and grinned and nodded. Yes, I had the same experience of reading these romances in my teens and sucking up the love of drama and passion and yes, all those fave themes, almost by osmosis. Scenes and issues written by various terrific authors have stuck in my mind and given me something to aspire to. In some cases there are even a few themes I’d love to tackle but can’t yet as I immediately think of a story where an author has already done such a great job I can’t imagine tackling it. One day though the right plot will come along. Like you, I wonder sometimes if I manage to translate what’s in my head onto the page. But be assured, you do it beautifully! I always look forward to the next Abby Green and ‘In Christofides’ Keeping’ is my next luscious treat.

    I loved ‘Bride in a Gilded Cage’ and it was a book where the heroine’s inexperience fitted her and her circumstances beautifully – and proved such an issue for the hero who thought he was so in control! I think that’s part of why it worked – not so much the fact she was inexperienced but that there was a reason why and the impact of that inexperience resonated through the story. As for a rich hero – call me shallow, but I enjoyed it!

    Thanks for the post, Abby. A great way to start the day.

  9. India Grey
    October 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Oh, I loved this book – and precisely for the reasons you mention above (as well as the fabulous writing, of course!) I think one of the things that keeps readers coming back to romance, and Presents/Modern Heat in particular is that polarisation of extreme masculine and feminine traits, which really ratchets up the potency of the sexual chemistry between the hero and heroine. In real life the battles between the sexes are pretty much fought and won (thanks to the suffragettes and pioneers and campaigners and brave souls who spoke out) and although we prize our equality, we still find masculinity deeply attractive. By distilling this down to its purest form, Presents novels feed that instinctive attraction. It’s biology, really. (which is a scary thought for me, as I was rubbish at all science at school)

    Thanks for another wonderful, sensual voyage of a read Abby! In Cristofides’ Keeping is on my bedside table and is going to be my reward for meeting my looming deadline…

  10. Tweets that mention Author Abby Green on Innocent Heroines, Wealthy Heroes and “Bride in a Gilded Cage” at I (Heart) Presents --
    October 12, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Harlequin Books, Dawn P. Dawn P said: RT @HarlequinBooks: Author Abby Green on I ? Presents: what are your favorite romance themes relevant today? […]

  11. Kate Walker
    October 13, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Oh is that what my heroines do? 😉 I shall go away and look at them with different eyes now. Thanks for the mention, Abby!

    I love Bride and am looking forward to Christofides’ . It’s interesting that you ask that question about themes just after my post on timeless stories – I think all themes are relevant all the time, they just get reinterpreted for the modern day. After all, there was some Russian who said there were only ever 7 stories/7 basic plots in the whole of fiction. S

    Though for me my anwser to your reader’s questions would be that they don’t *have* to be – but in this case that;s who your characters were.

  12. Sharon Kendrick
    October 13, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Mmm. I love an innocent heroine… means that her sensual discovery is orchestrated solely by the hero (which feeds into the masterful fantasy).

    It also means that she doesn’t look like a complete slapper if she tumbles straight into bed with him!

  13. Maisey Yates
    October 13, 2010 at 3:09 am

    LOL!!! I just laughed so hard at Sharon’s comment…

    *sigh* I that is such a brilliant fantasy…

  14. Ros
    October 13, 2010 at 3:21 am

    Do you know, Abby, I have no idea why I love the marriage of convenience trope so much?! I’ve been thinking about it since I read this post last night and I’m really not sure. But I have always been drawn to it. I remember watching the wildly-historically-inaccurate but very romantic film of Lady Jane when I was about 13 and totally falling in love with it because of the marriage of convenience storyline at its heart. And my favourite Georgette Heyers were always the marriage of convenience ones – A Civil Contract and The Convenient Wife. It’s harder to pull it off in a contemporary setting, but I still love it when it works.

  15. Abby Green
    October 13, 2010 at 3:25 am

    Sharon – you nearly made me spit out my morning tea! Bold girl. Maisey I’ve got your next book on my TBR pile and am looking forward to diving into it, gorgeous cover too!
    Annie – can’t imagine you NOT tackling any theme and not doing it brilliantly…
    India love the way you describe these books, you’re so right about the extreme masculine and feminine traits which highlights and dramatizes everything so well.
    Kate I think I have that book on the 7 plots somewhere…must try and dig it out, it might be helpful in my hour of need!
    x Abby

  16. Abby Green
    October 13, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Ros was that Lady Jane film the one with Helena Bonham Carter? If it was, I loved that too…it’s funny, my favourite themes were always about revenge and blackmail…!
    x Abby

  17. Ros
    October 13, 2010 at 5:50 am

    Yes, though I remember it as the one with Cary Elwes, 😉 I still love it today. I wonder if it’s something about the constraints of the marriage requiring the hero and heroine to get past their initial impression of each other and then fall in love with what they find beneath the surface. And also, maybe, the way that they show how happy endings can be made out of the most unpromising beginnings. Characters in a marriage of convenience really have to work hard to get past that and move into a marriage based on love and trust.

  18. Abby Green
    October 13, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Ros you’re inspiring me, thank you! Might try and get my hands on that film again…purely for research of course..;-)

  19. Anne McAllister
    October 13, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Ah, Abby, back to the basics! Yes! So looking forward to finishing the current ms. so I can read your book!

  20. Maisey Yates
    October 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I’m sweating bullets now, Abby! *gets complex* Bride in a Gilded Cage was so brilliant…you’re pretty brilliant. 🙂

  21. Sarah Morgan
    October 13, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I loved Bride in a Gilded cage Abby. Rafael was truly gorgeous, such a strong hero and I always enjoy MOC plots.

  22. Maurine
    October 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Great book Abby. Don’t change a thing!

    These themes–older hero, innocent heroine, arranged marriage–are ones that I love to read about in Presents. Don’t ask me why. They just are.

    I want to read In Christofides’ Keeping and couldn’t wait until March (are they crazy?) so I ordered from M&B and am on my fourth week waiting for my order. Wah!!!!

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