In both of my novels published to date, my heroines are very much women standing alone in the world. This is in part due to their fierce independence and determination to make their own way; but it is also because they lack parents on whom they rely.
In Burning Embers, Coral’s parents divorced when she was a child. Her father returned to Africa; her mother remarried and had more children; and Coral was sent off to boarding school. By the time she has become a young woman, she has come to terms with her mother’s remarriage, but there is a distance between them: she would not turn to her mother for comfort or guidance. And at the start of the novel, Coral is on a ship bound for Mombasa to take up her father’s plantation, for he has died. She is so very lost, and so very alone, on that ship:
Coral was overcome by emotion, remembering the last time she had seen this landscape. She thought of her father, who today would not be waiting for her. How empty her childhood home would seem without him. A lump formed in her throat, and she bit her lower lip while fighting to control the tears quivering on the edge of her eyelashes. Unable to restrain them for long, they spilled over and down her cheeks.
In The Echoes of Love, Venetia is also a woman alone. Her mother has died, leaving her with a father with whom she does not see eye to eye; so much so that she flees England and makes a life for herself in Venice, Italy – away from him. Paolo, when he meets her, is somewhat horrified by her isolation:
Abruptly, his eyes darkened. ‘What is a pretty woman like you doing out on the town on her own, on a night like this? I can’t believe you have no fidanzato, Venetia. Is the man away? Do you have no father? No mother? No brother to care for you?’ His outburst was almost angry as he threw down his cigarette, crushing it vigorously beneath his heel.
In Paolo’s world, Venetia should be cared for, protected.Independent as she is, she rallies against this. But the truth is, she is very vulnerable and very alone.
Why do I isolate my heroines so? It’s terrible of me, n’est-ce pas? Ah, the cruelty of the author! The truth is, I need those heroines to be alone. Not in a militant Greta Garbo ‘I want to be alone’ sense; but in a way that is both their choosing and at once not. Coral and Venetia go to a new country alone to make a life there – that is their choice; their spirit and strength as women shining through. But in a sense, they are driven by their circumstances. Can Coral remain in England, hiding behind her mother’s skirt and clinging to her mother’s new family? No, she mustmake her own life; she mustgo to Africa and reconnect with the father who so recently died but whom she lost, in truth, long ago. Can Venetia remain in England, controlled and bullied by her autocratic father, building a life of which he and only he approves? No, she must stand strong and escape his iron rule.
Ultimately, both women must stand alone – and while they find friends and mother figures to support them, they must know their own hearts and take their own decisions. I suppose, in a sense, this mirrors the personal journey I took when I left home after my degree and went travelling. We must all fly the nest at some time, and find our own way in the world.
For me, it is essential that a romantic heroine finds that path before falling in love and committing to a man. Hence Coral is a successful freelance photographer who comes to Africa on her own to run her plantation before she meets and falls for Rafe. And Venetia is a prominent mosaic restoration expert who’s assimilated into a foreign culture and has her own beautiful home beforeshe meets and falls for Paolo. My heroines aren’t damsels in distress to be rescued. They are women who have proven they can stand alone – but who ultimately make the courageous, difficult, wonderful choice not to do so any longer.