Author Abby Green on Innocent Heroines, Wealthy Heroes and "Bride in a Gilded Cage"
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] yahoo.co.uk) with their postal address.