The Day I Became a Presents Writer – At the Age of Eleven, by Kate Walker

by Kate Walker, author of The Return of the Stranger (Harlequin Presents Extra, October 2011)

I’ve been telling this story in a few places across the internet  – but it’s worth mentioning just once more because it’s so relevant to my latest book.  In fact, if you take a look inside The Return of the Stranger you’ll see that it’s dedicated to along ago junior school teacher of mine, Mr Grogan – who first told me that story of Wuthering Heights.

When I was eleven, I was at a very small junior school that was in an old building, where the wiring wasn”t very reliable. The was in West Yorkshire where the weather was often wild, and storms could break over the hills with great drama and  force.  One day there was a huge thunderstorm, great flashes of lightning, and the lights in the whole building  fused.  We were sitting in darkness, with  a lot of the girls getting scared and screaming when the thunder roared and the lightning flashed. (Not me – I have always loved storms and still do.)

To distract us from getting worried and while waiting for the electricity to be restored, the teacher — Mr Grogan — told us to sit quietly and he would tell us a story.  The story he told was about a man who returned home to his farm, high on the Yorkshire moors, bringing with him an orphan gipsy boy he has found in the streets of Liverpool . The farmer already had a son and daughter, Hindley and Catherine — and the gypsy boy”s name was of course Heathcliff. This story was the beginning of the classic romantic novel — Wuthering Heights.

I never got to hear the end of the story that day because the lights came back on before my teacher had got past the point where Heathcliff  leaves the farm,  to go and make his fortune. I never learned what happened when he came back — because it was  obvious that he did come back — and I always wanted to know.  But of course most of the story of Heathcliff”s revenge was probably not suitable for young children.  But the story stayed with me and I wanted to know so much about it.  It was some years later that I found a book on my mother”s bookshelf and, opening it, saw the names I remembered so well. I started to read — and didn”t put it down until I had finished. It was an amazing story – but  it never had the happy ending that I had hoped for.  And of course as I grew older I saw Heathcliff’s behaviour in a much less romantic light, but the impact of that first telling of the story stayed with me.

And that stormy day, as well as a lifelong fascination with the Bronte sisters and  the  isolated village of Haworth where they lived – just a few miles down the road from where I grew up — something else was started in my imagination, in the part of my brain that would one day make me a romance writer when I grew up. I fell in love – but I fell in love with a very particular sort of man.  I fell head over heels for the dark, brooding hero – the sort of man I call the ambiguous hero. A man who, depending on the circumstances, the situation he’s found in , can be either the hero or the villain of a story.   Quite often, as with Heathcliff, he’s  the outsider too – the man who is on the outside looking in — but the man you know will one day come back and claim what is his, and then his enemies had better look out.  And ever since then, all my favourite heroes have had this darker, brooding edge. It’s why (sorry Jane Austen fans!) the only Jane book I have ever really enjoyed is Pride and Prejudice and even then Darcy doesn’t have quite that dark and brooding edge I really want. Edward Rochester perhaps – and then  I moved on to Devil’s Cub (Georgette Heyer) and Mary Stewart’s heroes  in The Moon-Spinners or My Brother Michael.  They are books I can read again and again.  There’s also Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond in – OK, so he’s not physically dark but emotionally he is – and very definitely brooding, difficult – ambiguous.

So that day – way back in time!  – my image of a hero was formed and I’ve stayed with him ever since. I was thrilled when I read some early Mills & Boon romances when I was at school and  found just the sort of hero I was looking for – and then I rediscovered them when I picked up a Classic M&B by Anne Mather – Witchstone – and I was hooked all over again.

So when editorial suggested a special mini series where Presents Authors took the themes of classics of romantic fiction – Amy’s already mentioned The Powerful and The Pure earlier– I was thrilled to be asked to take part in it.  Specially when I learned that the book they wanted me to work on was my own favourite — Wuthering Heights. I”ve had an amazing time looking back at this great book and  honouring it by using it as the inspiration for my own Presents version of  this amazing story. I”ve had to make changes of course – Wuthering Heights isn”t really a love story. It”s a story about passion and possession and  power –  so while all those other books in the series  had happy endings already set, I had to create one for my characters. I also had to take wild, wilful Cathy and dark, dangerous Heathcliff and give them the happy ever after ending that Emily Bronte”s story never had.

I found it a challenge – but I loved doing it. I created the story I had always hoped for all those years ago. I didn”t copy or steal from Wuthering Heights, just used the basic themes that are in the book and created a romance that stands on its own. You don”t have to have read Wuthering Heights to enjoy The Return of The Stranger – you can read it entirely on its own and enjoy it.

Last week I was back in Haworth village, talking to The Bronte Society about writing The Return of The Stranger. I met a lot of people there who had never been able to get the story of Wuthering Heights out of their minds too – and I was thrilled to find that so many of them felt that way about Return of The Stranger, too. They loved this modernised, Presents version.  And I’m thrilled to find that there, in the library, in  the Bronte Parsonage Museum, they now have a copy of The Return of The Stranger – the UK edition with that amazing cover. And he’s a dark, brooding hero if ever there was one. So my book is no in the permanent collection, right next to the room in which Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights! For a writer in love with the dark, brooding hero – it doesn’t get better than that!  (I picked up some souvenirs of my visit and I’m going to be running a contest to win them  this weekend on my blog – you might want to join in.)

So what about you? Who was the very first fictional hero that you fell in love with – and did he shape your ideas of what a hero is for the rest of your reading life?

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Comments ( 13 )
  1. Mo
    October 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Maybe that is why I have so often enjoyed your books. My earliest “romances” were Jane Eyre, Villette, Wuthering Heights, and like you, the only Jane Austen book I really enjoyed is Pride and Prejudice. I have always been a fan of tall, dark, and brooding. The more brooding, the better, the more tortured, the better. Heathcliff informed my views on love, still does to a degree. Love can be wonderful, but it can also hurt you and because of its power, that hurt is soul deep and that wound almost never heals, no matter what. Heathcliff taught me that love is a curse as much as it is a blessing, a double-edged sword.

    I will definitely have to go find your book. I know I will enjoy it.

  2. Melanie Milburne
    October 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Kate,
    Gosh, you brought back some memories with your post!
    My first fictional hero was Raol in Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting. Brooding and French, dark and mysterious and yet passionate. I was hooked! And then there was Max in This Rough Magic. And yes, both, if not all of Mary Stewart’s heroes have influenced me in my reading and writing life, not to mention my personal one!
    Mary Stewart is still the author I re-read time and time again. Her characterisation and dialogue is brilliant.
    Thanks for a great post. I have The Return of a Stranger on its way to me. Can’t wait. x

  3. Nas
    October 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    My first fictional hero was…please don’t laugh… Michael Knight! My dad used to bring this Knight Riders series in Video cassettes to watch and we would watch with him. I must have been around 7-8 years old. I loved Michael! He could talk to cars and do all those impossible stuff!

    Later on I turned to Roger Moore and Sean Connery…but that’s another story!

    With books I love reading about a tortured hero who finds salvation in true love like Heath, who wanted revenge yet Kat’s love brought out all tender feelings in him in THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER!

  4. Stephe
    October 8, 2011 at 12:06 am

    The very first fictional hero I fell in love with was King Ameni in Joyce Verette’s “Dawn of Desire”, way back in the 70s-80s. He wasn’t perfect, but he was strong and as smart, passionate, and loyal as it comes. He could swing a sword like nobody’s business, too. He has inspired my writing for years.

    I still have that book around here somewhere… 🙂

  5. Sonali
    October 8, 2011 at 12:44 am

    Hi Kate,

    Hmmm the first fictional hero that i fell in love with was probably from one of the first M&Bs that i read. Rico Da Silva from Prisoner of Passion by Lynne Graham. He was a larger than life character for me at the age of 14. He was handsome, brooding, powerful, passionate and arrogant.

  6. Kat Walker
    October 8, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Melanie – now you’ve done it! I should never have mentioned Mary Stewart. Now I want to read them all again – Oh yes, Raoul and Max – but my favourite will always be Mark in The Moonspinners, I’m slightly nervous to think that The Return of The Stranger is on its way to you – I do hope you enjoy it.

  7. Kate Walker
    October 8, 2011 at 2:02 am

    I’m not laughing Nas! My son used to be entranced by the Knight Rideer series and I sometimes watched them with him. ‘Michael Kinght’ was a a very fine fidure of a man then! And Sean Connery as James Bond is great hero inspiration.

    Like you, I love a tortured hero and I’m so happy that Heath lived up to expectations in Return of The Stranger

  8. Sharon Kendrick
    October 8, 2011 at 4:09 am

    Thanks for this post, Kate. I think it’s wonderful you got to write a book which is so close to your heart.
    And (as has been much remarked upon) the English cover features one VE-RY hunky hero!

  9. Kaelee
    October 8, 2011 at 9:01 am

    I think my first hero would have been Gilbert Blythe, Anne of Green Gables’s nemesis and then love and husband. It was wonderful to watch the two of them grow up together and realize that his teasing her was another form of I like you and want to have your attention.

  10. Kate Walker
    October 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Sonli – I did reply to you yesterday before I had to go and speak at a Book Festival in Nottingham, but the message seems ot have disdappeared – so I hope this one gets through and that we don’t get a repeat of the other one!

    I love Prisoner of Passion and I often talk about it in my writing classes about the way that Lynne Graham keeps her characters together so cleverly at the beginning of that book. It’s great isn;t it?

  11. Kate Walker
    October 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you Sharon. I think I would have been very jealous of anyone else who got to rework Wuthering Heights instead of me! Everyone seems to be enjoying the book. And yes- it has been much remarked on but it’s worth mentioning again! – the cover fairies were really kind to me when they gave me that UK cover!

  12. Kate Walker
    October 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Gilbert is a lovelt hero -from the Anne Of Green Gables stories, Kaelee – I may write stormy, instant passion but I do love a strang and steadliy growing developement of love that ends up to be just perfect for the hero and heroine.

  13. Mary Preston
    October 15, 2011 at 6:14 am

    A classic & even a bit of a cliche perhaps, but Mr Darcy was my first love. He has stood the test of time for me & still has a place in my heart.