Fear and Longing and Desert Sheikhs… by Sharon Kendrick
There’s something about a Sheikh. Something which captures our hearts as well as our imagination. Something which makes a heroine shiver with a mixture of fear and longing. Fear that this man can never truly be hers – because deep in his heart is a cultural darkness she feels she’ll never be able to penetrate. And longing because, quite simply – he is the most masculine man she has ever met. The classic novel The Sheik, first published in 1921 – illustrates this conflict of feelings perfectly, I think.
The sense of brooding presence and enormous power might help explain the enduring popularity of the Sheikh hero. Or maybe it has more to do with their old-fashioned mastery – which women aren’t really supposed to want any more.
But of course, they do….
For me, it’s the ultimate fantasy. The autocratic ruler leaping onto an enormous stallion and riding it bare-backed across the endlessly baked sands. The arrogant leader who has experienced the harshness of the unforgiving desert terrain, and has survived it. These are Sheikhs we can all recognise – I can picture the man and the horse as I write.
But what of someone who has the burden of Sheikhdom thrust on him unexpectedly? Who has had little preparation for the mighty role he must now assume.
My latest hero is such a man.
The characters of Zahid and Francesca were first introduced in a book I wrote a few years back called Italian Boss, Housekeeper Bride. They made only a brief appearance – less than a page in total – but something about them obviously appealed to readers. (Probably because they’d just had a row!). Every so often, someone would email me and ask if I’d written their story and after a while, I realised that I had to give them a life of their own. And that’s how Monarch of the Sands was born.
There had been a definite equality between the two characters and I wondered how that might have come about. Because everyone knows that it’s difficult to get to meet a desert King! I decided that the only way Francesca was going to feel relaxed enough to be rude to the autocratic Sheikh, was if she’d known him for a long time. And she had. She’d known him ever since she was a little girl – a geeky misfit of a girl – and she had always adored him.
But Frankie’s all grown up now – and Zahid has changed, too. The fact that he has inherited the crown made that change inevitable. Frankie liked him better before – and Zahid found her much easier to deal with when she was a child. But suddenly she’s all woman…. Although neither of them want it – they can’t deny the overwhelming physical chemistry which sizzles between them.
I loved the challenge of picking a moment in Francesca and Zahid’s lives and working backwards until I had the beginning of their story. And the result was Monarch of the Sands.
I hope you like it – and I’m wondering just what it is about a Sheikh hero which makes you go weak at the knees?
And while you’re pondering an answer, I’ll leave you with one of the most inspirational theme tunes in the history of the cinema. As you watch and listen, just take a good look at Peter O’Toole’s eyes….