Honest truth: if you had asked me even as recently as three years ago if I thought I had a book in me, I’d have said no.
Not that I didn’t think I could write. I did. Or that I didn’t have stories to tell, or imaginary protagonists and streams of imagined dialogue running through my head, sometimes all day every day. I had all of those.
But, to me at least, the real devil of writing is in the details. And I didn’t believe I had it in me to create a ‘world’ for any of the imaginary protagonists inside my brain, particularly all those little specifics about a character’s personal history that add flesh to their bones, make them real for readers.
Think, for example, about what Jane Eyre—the wellspring of all romance novels, to which I and every romance writer from Barbara Cartland to E. L. James owe an eternal debt—would be without the minutiae of Jane’s childhood suffering at the hands of her Aunt Reed, or her gruelling deprivation at Lowood School. It’s these details that made you invest in Jane as a character, and want happiness for her long before she arrives at the gates of Thornfield Hall.
Of course, hold yourself up to authors like Charlotte Brontë and you will never start writing…or so it was for me, until one day three summers ago when I was travelling from Manchester to London to attend a three-day business event. Anticipating that I would have time on my hands in the evenings, I popped into a bookstore at Manchester Piccadilly train station and bought three books: two ‘serious’ novels and one extreme-guilty-pleasure read.
At first glance, the extreme-guilty-pleasure read, a New York Times bestseller which shall remain nameless, appeared to have everything I look for in my escapist literature. Subtle, Shades-of-Grey-esque cover art? Check. Jet setting, ultra-affluent cast of characters, with a side order of English country manor? Check. Super confident but secretly tortured alpha male hero? Check!
So I should have been in reading heaven, reclining in my hotel bath later that night, book in hand.
And yet…this book’s heroine frustrated me. Maybe it’s a symptom of me getting older, or maybe I’ve always had a problem with romance novels that don’t put their lead female first. I want a heroine who has a life. Something to bring to the table. And this heroine’s life, her personal history, friendships and most particularly her job—which sounded like interesting work that could have been fun to read about—were so sparingly portrayed that I got almost no sense of her as a person.
Of course, the romance genre is a broad church, ranging from YA coming-of-age love stories to BDSM, and this book was billed as an erotic romance, so it made sense that it was heavier on sex than on character development. But it niggled at me, bothered me more than it really should have, the fact that its heroine’s back story was relegated to wallpaper.
And thus a fire was lit.
On the train ride back to Manchester a few days later, I starting thinking*about what kind of heroine I’d create if I put my money where my metaphorical mouth was and wrote a book. By the time I got home, I’d sketched out a rudimentary back story for my heroine, 26-year-old personal assistant Luna Gregory, and within the next month I’d tentatively started writing about her.
Entirely to my surprise, I’ve found that creating Luna’s anterior life has been both easier and more engrossing than I ever thought possible. Like her progenitor Jane Eyre, Luna is an orphan whose love story takes place against the backdrop of the stately English home where she works; a reserved woman, touched by tragedy, in whom still waters run deep. But unlike Jane, Luna’s life is defined by her friendships and her career. Her loyalty to her close friends and her dedication to her boss, the Marchioness of Lionsbridge, illuminate a heroine who would otherwise remain safely hidden in the shadows, if left to her own devices.
I truly hope that knowing how much Luna loves her friends, how slightly OCD she can be about her job, how hard she strives to put her unhappy past behind her, will make the love she finds in the Lord and Master trilogy more compelling—more real—for the reader. It definitely made it more compelling for me to write.
* I’d be curious to know if any of the other contributors to The Write Stuff have the same experience of moving vehicle = inspiration that I do. I swear, virtually all my best ideas have come to me whilst I was sitting on a train, or in the passenger seat of a car, staring out of the window!
Kait Jagger lives on a farm in Lancashire, England with her husband, four children, one dog and one cat. Like Luna Gregory, the lead character in the Lord and Master Trilogy, Kait makes her living as PA. Kait is currently hard at work on the third and final installment of the Trilogy, The Marchioness.