Armitage Authors is pleased to introduce fellow Armitage fan, Melanie Stanford. Melanie shares with us a little about using Richard Armitage’s John Thornton as an inspiration for her newest novel: Collide, a modern romance based on North and South.
Tell us how you found John Thornton. Were you an Armitage fan before finding N&S?
I was what I’d call a moderate Armitage fan before I watched North & South. Moderate meaning I thought he was incredibly talented in both Robin Hood and Spooks, the kind of actor who really loses himself in a role so you forget who it is you’re watching. And then came North & South. The funny thing is, I didn’t want to watch it at first. The whole mill owner and strike and dirty Northern town didn’t really appeal to me. My mom had a Gaskell collection and we watched Cranford and Wives & Daughters before I finally agreed to watch N&S. And then WOW. Not only did N&S become a favourite, but I was suddenly seeing Richard Armitage in a whole new (read: swoon-worthy) light.
Were you already a writer when you discovered N&S? What have you written?
Yep, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I started out writing epic fantasy, but my first finished novel was a Young Adult time travel romance. I’ve also written a YA Urban Fantasy retelling of Les Mis, and a YA Mystery. My first published novel is an adult romance called Sway, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s the first in my Romance Revisited series, with Collide being the second. I’m currently writing the third book in the series, a modern retelling of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. (The books are in a series but can all be read as standalones.)
Tell us a bit about your book. What inspired you to create a modern version of N&S? Was Richard Armitage‘s portrayal of John Thornton a factor? Would we see elements of him in your book?
After publishing Sway, I knew I wanted to write other romances based off of classic novels. Because N&S had become a fave by then, it seemed right to do that one next. It proved a lot more difficult to modernize than Persuasion had been. I had no clue how to include the strike in a modern-day setting. I played with different concepts, different settings, different jobs the characters might have… I knew I wanted Maggie (my Margaret) to be artistic in some way. I also saw her rejecting a proposal right off the bat, like in the original. For Mr. Thornton, what really struck me was the scene in the movie where Margaret first sees Mr. Thornton beating up Stevens because he was caught smoking. That first impression is so vivid, and so obviously horrible (I mean, it’s no wonder Margaret doesn’t like him right off the bat), it really stuck with me. So I ended up making Jay (my Mr. Thornton) a loan shark’s enforcer- someone who beats people up for a living. Of course, this meant that I was deviating from the original by not making Jay his own boss or owning a business, like Mr. Thornton, but I hope readers will forgive me this change. There are definitely moments, from the movie especially, that I included in the book because I loved them so much. And when picturing and describing my Jay, he was always Richard Armitage in my head, so I think some of that will come through the character.
What do you love about N&S and the characters?
I love the story as a whole- it’s like Pride & Prejudice but with so much more going on. (P&P is also a fave!) I love the contrasts- dirty and bustling northern town and slow southern paradise, worker and master, rich tradesman and poor gentleman’s daughter. Contrasting Margaret who was brought up in higher society than Fanny but is so much more down-to-earth. The differences between the two mothers. Feeling the same as Mr. Hale when he’s learning about masters and workers and how he feels for both and can’t choose a side. The deep sadness and tragedy that threads throughout the story. Watching both Margaret and John change and grow as the story progresses. The compelling secondary characters. And let’s not forget that proposal! Wowza! One of my favourite things about the movie are the actor’s facial expressions. There are so many times when you can read exactly what they’re thinking on their face with the subtlest of looks. And let’s not forget Richard Armitage and that voice of his… “she did save me. But mother, I daren’t believe such a woman could care for me.” I mean, we all read that in his voice, right? (By the way, I love the way he says “but” in this movie. Silly, but true.)
What would you like Armitage fans to know about you?
There’s this meme that has pictures of John Thornton and it says, “Some women like Chippendale’s… I prefer broody, buttoned up men with cravats and top hats.” Despite writing moderns, that is 100% me.
I think many of us are with you on that score, Melanie! Thanks for coming by our blog to tell us about your new book. There are far too few North and South fics out there! We’re glad to hear of any new additions to the Thornton list.