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