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- Exploring the Creative Process-Part IX: Interview with Abby Vegas May 27, 2016
- Exploring the Creative Process-Part VIII: Interview with Hazel Osmond April 28, 2016
- Exploring the Creative Process-Part VII: Interview with Charlotte Hawkins March 12, 2016
- Exploring the Creative Process-Part VI: Interview with Catherine Winchester January 7, 2016
- Exploring the Creative Process, Part V: Interview with Julia Daniels December 17, 2015
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Tag Archives: Elizabeth Gaskell
We welcome the last fortnight of 2015 with the fifth instalment in our Creative Process series. This time we chat with another published romantic author, Julia Daniels.
What type of environment do you need to write?
I have two wonderful teenagers in my house. I thought when they finally reached this age, they would be less needy of my time, but I was wrong! I try to be wherever they are, because I want to be around them as much as I can before they leave home!
So, to avoid distractions and still be somewhat accessible, I wear headphones and listen to music to drown out the noise from their video games and whatever Netflix show my daughter happens to be watching. I create a playlist for whichever book I am writing at the time, with a certain theme to the music. For example, when I wrote Master of Her Heart, I used a lot of British tunes, classical music they may have listened to at the time, or music with lyrics that reminded me of scenes from the book or mini-series. It usually puts me in the right frame of mind as I write, too.
How do your ideas come to you?
My ideas usually start with the characters. I think about what odd situations I can create for them to fall into. Mr. Thornton is hard to manipulate much, he’s pretty perfect the way he is, but Miss Hale… now she definitely needs her head adjusted from time to time!
My latest idea came about in such an odd way. A friend of mine develops cross stitch, rug hooking and needle punch patterns. She was selected as a finalist in a contest Martha Stewart was running at her website for “Handmade in America” products. Well, my friend didn’t win, but the company that did is a family-run sock manufacturer in a sleepy town in the south. Alarm bells went off in my head and immediately I had Thornton as a sock manufacturer in the south and Margaret a snooty gal from the north. This one will be a contemporary novel. I cannot wait to write it!
Do you plan a story from the beginning to end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they do?
I started using a new software called Scrivener that lets me skip around. So, on the current book I’m working on for my upcoming Mill Master’s series, I had all these scenes way later in the novel suddenly popping in my head. With this software I can add whatever I want and not get lost in the storyline.
Usually, I have the major plot points and characters in my head from start to finish, but there are often scenes and incidents that suddenly appear as I write, so I have to be flexible to let the characters lead the story!
Which do you find easier to write: dialogue or description or are the equally hard/easy?
Good dialogue is the key to a good book! It shows the interaction of the characters, and characters are the driving force of the book. Description, of course, draws the pretty picture of the scene, but without strong characters and snappy dialogue the book falls flat for me.
I am not a big fan of erotica or sexually explicit romance. That’s not to say there won’t ever be flush-worthy scenes in my novels, but sex for sex sake won’t happen. I’m also not very comfortable with child abuse or graphic incidents of harm to animals or people.
What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories?
Go for it! I’m hungry for new stories, and new authors. Remember there is no “grade” associated with your submission and the comments I have received are very kind and supportive. Take a risk, you will be really glad that you tried! Just make sure you are willing to keep up with your stories. I get super frustrated when I get addicted to a story and then it’s never updated.
Oh so many! The Little House on the Prairie Series, Sarah Plain and Tall, Pride and Prejudice and of course North and South (although I do like many of the adaptations better!).
Visit Julia’s official site: https://juliadaniels.wordpress.com
You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. To purchase Master of her Heart or any of Julia’s works, go to AmazonUS or AmazonUK.
Sample the first chapters of her latest North & South story, “Milton’s Mill Master: A Variation of North & South”, on Wattpad.
ETA: Julia’s posting a Christmas story that will serve as an epilogue to her North & South novel “Master of her Heart”. You can find it on Wattpad: “A Mill Master’s Christmas”
We welcome the weekend with the third instalment in our Creative Process series with an interview featuring another published author, Emma Marlow.
What type of environment do you need to write?
I prefer to write when I’m alone – that’s when I work best – but I often have to write at the kitchen table whilst my daughter covers everything in hummus. I can’t write if someone’s got music or the TV on. If my husband wants to watch TV, I have to relocate to a different part of the house.
How do your ideas come to you? Do you always write them or do you let them disappear?
Ideas usually just come to me. I tend to get one or two key “scenes” which just pop into my mind. I let the image play on repeat and then slowly flesh it out a bit until it’s something I can’t forget. I never write an idea down – even if I get an idea just after I’ve started on a new project, and it’s therefore something I won’t be able to work on for months. I find writing it down tends to sap the life out of it, and I lose my passion for the idea. So far – touch wood! – I’ve never forgotten an idea.
Do you plan a story from the beginning to end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they do?
I never plan a story; I just have those one or two key scenes as landmarks. I just start writing and meander along until I get to that scene I’ve known that I wanted to write. Sometimes the scene has to change a little because of how I’ve written the story, but the premise is always the same. I never know how a story is going to end when I start writing it. I like the ending to surprise myself. I like it to naturally unfurl, rather than trying to make my writing fit something I’ve pre-planned.
Do you prefer writing easy, quick stories or long, layered stories?
I’m not keen on stories much below 90k words because I tend to feel that they’re under-developed. That said, I’m not the most concise writer ever, so other people could probably write my stories much more succinctly. No matter the length of the story, I like to always have something that’s a bit on an ensemble piece. I like to layer my stories so that there are little sub-plots, and not just the main storyline of the protagonist.
I’d give anything a try. So far I’ve tried my hand at historical fiction, romance, chick lit, mystery/crime thrillers, sci-fi, drama and a bit of erotica. I tend to prefer writing about things that are real, past or present, so fantasy, sci-fi, monsters or talking animals… I don’t really enjoy that so much.
What do you do to cure writer’s block?
In the first instance, I quiz my husband. We are completely different creatures, so he always looks at plots etc. from an entirely different perspective. He’s helped me out a few times, and managed to get me back on track. If talking it through doesn’t solve the problem, I set the story aside, and start a new project. The story will either come or it won’t, and if I persevere when it’s just not coming to me, I’ll end up with something I’m unhappy with. It means a few stories which have been abandoned about about 90k words, but some of them I intend to come back to one day.
What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories?
Read all the time. I think the more you read, the better you’ll be at writing. If you read other people’s work – self-published or otherwise – and think that your writing is just as good, why shouldn’t you share it with people? If you’re anxious about how your writing will be received, pick a pen name. You don’t even have to tell your friends or family that you’re writing. When you can self publish eBooks, post on writer’s forums and the likes of wattpad, you have a certain anonymity which can take away the fear for a new writer. If you do decide to share your stories, don’t get too hung up on critical feedback; you can’t please everyone.
What is your favourite book and why?
For me, the best books are those I read as a teenager; books which have left a lasting impression more than a decade later: North and South, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, Bridget Jones’ Diary. Each story was immersive and emotionally engaging. I feel a fierce loyalty to those books and could read them time and again. The best thing I’ve read recently is probably Prue Batten’s Gisborne Saga; the history, the research, the intrigue – it’s incredible!
It’s the season for hearts and flowers and The Armitage Authors Network has asked a few of our own talented romance authors — Elizabeth Hanbury, Nancy Klein, Hazel Osmond, and Charlotte Hawkins — to share which written tales of love are most dear to their hearts.
Discover some traditional favorites and maybe one or two you haven’t read yet. What are your absolute favorite stories of true love?
Persuasion by Jane Austen
I love Darcy and Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice but Persuasion resonates with me more. It’s a deeply moving, against the odds story of two people who get a second chance at love. It’s also about Anne’s personal journey. Anne is a slightly older heroine who is also the overlooked middle sister at everyone’s beck and call. During the course of the novel she realizes she is the best judge of what will make her happy, and learns how to live her own life and stand up to her family and well-meaning friends. You feel for Anne (and Captain Wentworth, the self made man who never stops loving Anne through the intervening years they have been apart) in such a visceral way you can’t put the novel down.
Favourite scene: When Captain Wentworth ‘placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time’. ‘It’ is one of the most beautiful love letters in literature:
‘You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.’
The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
One of Heyer’s most tender romances. No spoilers but due to circumstances Sir Anthony (Fanshawe) and Prue (Merriot) spend a lot of time alone. This is different from many of Heyer’s other novels—society at the time didn’t allow unmarried young women to be in a man’s company without a chaperone present.
Prue and Sir Anthony’s romance is also very tactile; Sir Anthony touches Prue on the shoulder or on the hand a great deal.
Georgette Heyer wrote The Masqueraders early on in her own marriage so perhaps that had some bearing on the restrained yet heartfelt passion. The high stakes plot also heightens the intensity of the romance.
Favourites scenes: Sir Anthony fighting a duel on Prue’s behalf (it’s complicated but trust me it’s incredibly romantic), the ‘ride through the night’ and ‘the proposal’, where Tony makes his feelings and desires for Prue very clear.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
There can be only one! The classic love story of John Thornton and Margaret Hale, beautifully imagined by the 2004 BBC adaptation and Richard Armitage’s broodingly powerful yet subtle portrayal of John Thornton. You have to look ‘ard ;0) for the romance in the novel but it’s superbly done.
Devil in Winter by Linda Kleypas
The rake/wallflower romance is a well-worn plot but Devil in Winter is brilliantly executed. The characters are three-dimensional, the pace and sensual tension don’t let up for a moment and the sex scenes are steamy yet also romantic and moving. A modern classic.
Favourite scene: When Evie decides it’s time to end Sebastian’s restraint and helps him lose his bet. Keep your fan ready to cool your blushes while enjoying the heroine taking control.
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Not only a wonderful romance but an epic adventure and a story about identity and belonging, set across the class, cultural and race divides in 19th century India.
Ash and Anjuli’s romance is heart wrenching every step of the way. You doubt they can ever be together given who they are (he is a British Army Officer, she is an Indian princess). When Ash has to escort Anjuli to her wedding in another state thousands of miles away, their turmoil is almost unbearable to read.
Favourite scene: Ash and Anjuli in the cave during the sandstorm. Exquisitely written and never have two characters deserved their moment of physical and emotional release more.
Elizabeth writes “wickedly captivating” Regency romances. See our interview with her here.
What are my three favorite love stories? Now, that’s a tough one—I have any number of romantic novels that I will revisit over and over. Putting aside North and South, which is a given, my three favorite love stories, in no particular order, are Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Marion Meade’s Stealing Heaven, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.
I prefer my love stories to have a large element of angst—I believe it adds suspense to the story, depth to the characters, and longing to my soul as I read. Persuasion is such a perfect story of a couple who loved, lost, and came together again; Captain Wentworth harbors bitter feelings while Anne Elliott deeply regrets turning him away. The way in which Austen brings them together is quite lovely, and the story holds a great deal of foolishness and fun which I expect from Austen.
Stealing Heaven is a novel I stumbled upon in college when I saw a production (don’t even remember the name) of two actors reading the love letters of Heloise and Peter Abelard. The acting was dreadful, but the words stuck with me. I tracked down their tragic story and stumbled on this novel which portrays their lives and love perfectly. For those who know the story, the novel is a must-read. For those who don’t, the novel is a must-read.
Finally, I find myself revisiting Outlander over and over again (both in novel form and in the excellent STARZ series, which returns in April—hooray!). This time travel gem catapults a nurse from post-WWII Scotland via a circle of standing stones back to 1700’s Scotland—and into the arms of one of the best modern romantic characters ever written, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Their story has been told to date across a series of novels, but the first one remains my favorite.
Nancy’s romantic fan fiction stories of both Guy and Thornton are legendary. We reviewed her published N&S story here.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss a few of my favourite love stories …
It’s funny, when I started thinking about those love stories that have really ‘got’ to me, I realised that most of them don’t follow the trajectory of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins her back again.’
They are more ‘boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl forever’ or ‘loses her and might get her back, we’ll never know’.
I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe I like the yearning, will they/won’t they element of these type of love stories? Maybe I find it satisfying that the doomed love affair will forever remain intense and unsullied – the couple will always remain true to each other and they will never have to navigate their way through the practicalities and niggles that creep into a life-long relationship? I mean, much as I love Pride & Prejudice, don’t you just wonder how well that love story continues? I can’t help suspecting that Darcy’s brooding intensity might hack Lizzie off three years down the line on a wet Sunday evening when they’ve been arguing about her family yet again.
No, the love stories that I come back to are not the happy ever after variety. One Day, Anna Karenina, a lot of Thomas Hardy’s books, Me Before You, The Fault in Our Stars… you’re probably getting the picture.
And if you can throw in one or both of the couple sacrificing their prospect of happiness for a noble cause, well, I’m hooked.
Here are two of my favourite love stories in novels – they don’t end happily but to me they are satisfying in a bittersweet way – the characters are battered or even defeated by what fate throws at them, but they continue to love each other. Timeless, all- transcending love, who can resist it?
‘His Dark Materials’ Trilogy by Philip Pullman
I remember reading these to my daughters when they were still quite young. As I reached the last few pages of the final part of this trilogy where Will and Lyra decide that for the greater good they have to part and return to their separate worlds, I started to cry – the tears streaming down my face variety. I remember my daughters looking at me as if were mad. What was all the fuss about?
Fast forward a few years and my eldest daughter revisited the books and appeared in the kitchen red eyed and sniffing. She was old enough to understand the emotional kick the book delivers. I still cannot think of the gentle, noble Will and the fearless Lyra’s pact to sit on the same seat, albeit in different worlds, every Midsummer’s Day and remember how much they love each other, without dissolving into a pile of mush.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Oh my. The exquisite cruelty that McEwan inflicts on the reader in this one. Robbie is bright, funny, honest but wrenched away from the love of his life, Cecilia, for a crime he did not commit. She waits for him and they are reunited after much adversity. Except they aren’t … we find out the happy ending has been created by Cecilia’s sister the novelist, to atone for the fact that she played a huge part in the misunderstanding that ruined their real lives. The news that Robbie died at Dunkirk and Celia in a bomb attack on London, having only met once since he was taken away to prison, is devastating.
When I read the book the first time, I remember the shock of realising that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. I felt cheated of it, but now I think the lack of one actually makes Robbie and Cecilia’s story much more poignant. In a story that goes from a dream to a nightmare, they endure as honourable and true.
Hazel has written several contemporary love stories. Her ‘Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe’ was shortlisted for Romantic Comedy of the Year 2012 by the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She’s also written a Guy of Gisborne fanfic that gets raves. Find out more about her and her works in our interview here.
The Armitage Author Network contacted Charlotte via Twitter and she gave the following short summary.
AAN: Tell us your two favorite romance books and why.
CH: My two favorites are Caught in the Act by Betina Krahn and Outlander, book one.
Caught in the Act is set in Elizabethan England. It’s about a rogue entering into an arranged marriage in order to pay off his debts. His bride is a naive but very intelligent beauty who tries to get rid of her intended groom. Of course, they fall in love. But …
The story is anything but typical. It’s clever, witty, and romantic. And very sexy.
As for Outlander, I love it because of the characters. Jamie and Claire are fantastic. The story is wonderful too, and it’s sexy as hell.
AAN: But you are also a big Jane Eyre fan as well, aren’t you?
CH: I wasn’t sure if Jane Eyre would be considered a romance novel, since it’s a classic piece of literature. But yes!
AAN: And you love Jane because….
CH: I am Jane. I feel her experiences and words are mine. Although I’m still waiting to find my Mr. Rochester!
AAN: Thanks for your answers.
CH: Thanks for having me!
Charlotte is well known for her very romantic Guy of Gisborne series of books. For more about Charlotte and her work, see our recent interview with her here.
The Armitage Authors Network continues our celebration of the 1oth Anniversary of North & South this week with a special post from three of the authors we’ve archived: Elizabeth Hanbury, Phillipa Ashley, and Georgia Hill. They recently spent some time exploring Quarry Bank Mill, a site that Elizabeth Gaskell may have used as inspiration for Thonton’s Mill and the Master’s house, and they shared their photos and memories of what the early days of the fandom was like below.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first broadcast of the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South.
Anyone who has only recently discovered the delights of N&S and John Thornton/Richard Armitage might not know the internet phenomenon that followed its original broadcast. The three of us (Phillipa Ashley, Liz Hanbury and Georgia Hill) were there when it happened and to celebrate this special occasion, we’re sharing our thoughts and recollections of those heady days.
So let’s begin with a bit of background…
Back in November 2004 there was very little pre-publicity about this new period drama series North & South, even from the BBC. It arrived on British TV screens on Sunday evening, 14th November, relatively unheralded and unannounced. Then (as now) the BBC has a specific area on its website – messageboards – for comments and discussion on TV and Radio programmes. A messageboard for N&S was started shortly after episode one was broadcast. At first these discussions took place on the BBC’s general drama board. The contributions were plentiful but initially fairly restrained because the board was strictly moderated – more on this later. Then, someone asked “Is it just me, or is Richard Armitage hotter than a thousand suns?” and the floodgates opened!
By the end of November, the volume of messages being posted had swamped the general board, so a new board was opened especially for N&S in mid-December which sparked another 5,000 messages. This unprecedented reaction to North and South and the outpouring of emotion caused such a stir it even got a mention in the UK national press.
I was desperate to find out more after watching North & South. I’d never had such a reaction before to a TV drama before and to this day I don’t know why this production and Richard Armitage/John Thornton got under my skin as they did. Some people have described it like falling in love and it’s a fair comparison. It was certainly a wonderfully intense response. Having searched on line, there was very little information about the adaptation and even less about Richard Armitage, unless you were looking for the former US Deputy Secretary of State! I didn’t make the connection when watching N&S but I’d actually seen Richard before briefly, on stage, when he played Angus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth in 1999.
Eventually I found the BBC drama messageboard where a very long conversation was already going on about North & South. My first feeling was one of relief. I was just pleased to find others had been similarly affected. I thought I was the only one going crazy over it!
I joined and did at least remember to use a pseudonym although the weirdos I’d been worried about finding in an on-line chat room all seemed remarkably intelligent and erudite people, quoting Gaskell, comparing the original text with the adaptation and discussing many aspects of 19th century culture and literature. The atmosphere was heady and strangely comforting for those of us caught up in this extraordinary passion. Discussion was fast, furious and fun with dollops of desire for a certain TDHCMO (that’s short for ‘tall, dark, handsome cotton mill owner’ – we created our own acronyms and phrases for speed of posting and to get around the moderators. For example, ‘South American River’ was used when you wanted to point people towards ‘Amazon’!) alongside sensible literary discussion and analysis.
A campaign was started to get the series out on DVD as only a few lucky souls had had the foresight to record every episode.
The board was strictly moderated, and messages would be removed without warning if the moderators thought we had broken the rules. We never knew who the moderators were. We only knew the two BBC hosts, Ian and Claudia, who occasionally popped up to post in the threads. There were no pictures on the board and no smilies.
Also, the board was only open until 10pm in the evening, so there would often be a mad rush just before then to post messages. It was hard to tear yourself away, such was the intensity of the discussion. One evening I made the mistake of putting on a face pack thinking I’d spend a few minutes checking on the latest postings and news. Three hours later I was still staring at the PC screen, utterly engrossed and still wearing the face pack!
And some of the threads were side-splittingly funny and off-the-wall – there was a Milton Pantomine thread featuring Henry the Horse and a thread which discussed which washing powder Mrs Thornton used to get John’s shirts so white!
It was a magical and unforgettable time and out of it came things I’ll always I treasure: the N&S DVD which might otherwise not have seen the light of day, and which continues to gain the series new fans and incite the same passionate response we experienced back in 2004; some wonderful friendships and plenty of laughter; and indirectly the push I needed to take my scribblings out of the drawer, dust them off and start writing again.
I hope Richard and the rest of the cast and crew of N&S 2004 find it heart-warming to know how many good things N&S 2004 has been the catalyst for, and feel proud to have been involved in something that continues to delight 10 years on, as well as engender a strong sense of community and goodwill among its many fans worldwide.
I’ve never heard that face pack story, Liz! I’d love to have seen that.
Whizzing back ten years to that dark Sunday evening in November 2004…
I’d always loved period dramas and when I saw N&S trailered, I thought I’d give it a go, BUT (please hide behind the sofa at this point) I hated Thornton in the first episode. I thought he was vile when he kicked the millworker and not handsome, but scary. I told my husband and daughter that I might not bother with episode 2, however, they really enjoyed it so I decided to give the series a second a chance.
Some way into episode 2, I suddenly thought: wow, this is good and wow, this character has a magnetic charisma that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Basically I was completely hooked on the series and on Richard’s portrayal of Thornton and I wanted more of both.
Internet forums were relatively new back then, so while I was looking for more details on the series I happened upon the BBC Drama messageboard. It was there I saw a thread that said something like: “It is just me or is John Thornton hotter than 1000 suns?”
The board is where I ‘met’ Liz and Georgia but they had screen names then. It wasn’t until many months later that we finally met in the flesh.
I have North & South to thank for that, and for introducing me to writing fiction and to my other C19 close friends.
Heady is exactly the right word. It was an extraordinary time. I’d gone through something similar with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, back in 1995. The big difference? No internet! I had to make do with a ‘Making of’ behind the scenes book and a trip to some of the film locations. Although I still harbour a fondness for both television series and Colin Firth (who doesn’t?!) the obsession soon waned. With North & South, I had a access to a community of intelligent, educated and, let’s face it, swooning Richard Armitage fans! It revived my love of 19th century literature and history and introduced me to many books I probably would have otherwise overlooked.
I have very fond memories of the BBC site. I’d never been on an internet chat forum before and it was an absolute delight. Like having a non-stop gossip with like-minded people. We’d begin a thread discussing one thing and it would drift into something really quite different. What began as an opera topic, ended up as a discussion on whether we thought our literary hero was a virgin. There were in jokes galore too. The main snag was, at that time, I only had a dial-up internet connection. This meant not only was the phone ‘engaged’ for hours on end, I quadrupled the phone bill. That took some explaining.
Meeting up in London – for the first time – was scary. It didn’t help that a friend suggested all these women may not be all they seemed. The person who claimed to be a Jane Austen literature expert on the board may be something completely different for real! Thankfully, everyone turned out to be as lovely in real life as on the board – and as easy to talk to. We’ve gone on to have some really enjoyable weekends – to mills, Chawton and to Edinburgh where many N&S locations were filmed. I’ve made some lasting friendships which I treasure. And, of course, it sparked off my writing career.
Great fun and happy memories.
The BBC N&S board carried on until February 2005, when it was shut down in a cost-cutting exercise. Allegedly ;0) Actually I don’t think they could cope with the deluge of posts! Richard Armitage himself posted a message to us the day before it closed and the response caused the board to go into meltdown. It never quite recovered before its final closure the following evening!
One of the members had already set up another board elsewhere for discussion about 19th century literature. When the BBC board closed, she kindly set up some extra boards about N&S for us on the C19 Messageboard, and most of us moved over there.
Copies of some of the conversations we had about North & South on the BBC board in the three months after it was aired can be found in the archive board on C19. A few members had the prescience to save some of the best ones.
And that mention in the UK national press? The Times printed an article about the phenomenon that was the BBC N&S board just before Christmas 2004. You can read it here.
We hope those who were never on the BBC board enjoy reading about that heady time. We certainly will never forget it! Let us know if you have any questions about those early days and we’ll do our best to answer them.
You can find Georgia Hill in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @georgiawrites. Phillipa Ashley is in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley. Liz Hanbury can be found in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Hanbury.
Dear Mrs. Gaskell,
Today is a special anniversary for many of us and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for writing North & South. I wonder if you ever imagined the lives it would touch, then and now. I wonder if you ever imagined that John Thornton and Margaret Hale would be considered a classic romantic couple. They’re certainly not typical. Margaret may be soft hearted but she’s not soft headed. I love her determination to do something, to affect the world beyond her own sitting room. Thornton isn’t a typical romantic hero, either. He doesn’t lounge around in drawing rooms because he doesn’t have time, and if he did have the time he doesn’t have the temperament. They’re so beautifully matched and you obviously loved writing them as much as we’ve loved reading them.
The romance of John and Margaret is just one love story in North & South, though. The complex relationships that you write between parents and children, between siblings, between masters and workers, are beautifully explored: Thornton’s desire to take care of his mother and the pride she takes in him; Dixon’s devoted care for Mrs. Hale and for Margaret; Margaret’s taking over the household to make the transition to Milton easier on both of her parents. The compassion you have for your characters comes through in each line and, for me at least, is what makes the novel ring true even now.
I also wonder, especially today, how you would feel knowing that North & South and the BBC’s 2004 adaptation has brought together and inspired a new generation of writers. The tall, dark, handsome actor who played John Thornton might have had something to do with bringing them together, too, but there would have been no actor, no series, no BBC message board crash without your novel. Thank you, Mrs. Gaskell, from all of us.
Your devoted fan,