SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH FIELDING
Hannah Fielding has had a life-long passion for travel and the written word. These are reflected in her unique and evocative romances, set in exotic and mysterious settings. This April, her third romance, Indiscretion, has just been published. It is also set in the wild landscape of Analucia and features a half-English, half-Spanish young writer named Alexandra de Falla. Exciting, indeed!
As a devoted, full-time novelist, this intriguing author has a lot to say. And we are pleased to introduce her on our site.
- Why did you decide to devote yourself to being a full-time author? What challenges have you had?
Stories and writing have always been part of my life. My father was a great raconteur and my governess used to tell the most fabulous fairy stories – I could listen to them for hours. When I was seven she and I came to an agreement: for every story she’d tell me I would invent one in return. That is how my passion for storytelling began.
At school I consistently received first prize for my essays and my teachers often read them aloud in class. As a teenager I used to write short romantic stories during lessons and circulate them in class, which made me very popular with my peers (but less so with the nuns!). In addition, since a young age I have kept some sort of a diary where I note my feelings, ideas and things that take my fancy (or not).
My grandmother was a published author of poetry and my father published a book about the history of our family, so writing runs in my veins. I guess I always knew that one day I would follow in those footsteps and forge my own path in that field – a subconscious dream which finally came true.
So, writing came easily to me; the challenge was to decide to become published, to take the books I’d written out of the drawer and present them to the world… in other words, to accept that my work would be judged. It took a lot of persuading from my husband and my children, who believed in me and supported me to make this first step.
- What do you enjoy the most about writing? As you write more, do you find your writing style changing?
Most of all I enjoy setting off on my new journey: dreaming up the plot, looking for my characters and meeting them, moulding them first before placing them in a setting which I will enjoy discovering. And then of course the great adventure of the research, which will take me back to places I have visited and loved or new ones about which I am eager to learn.
- Where do you get the ideas for your exotic settings and plots?
There are so many amazing countries in the world! My ideas for settings for my plots come from places I have visited, places that I find romantic… places that make me dream.
‘Write about what you know’ is a common piece of advice given to writers, and I agree with it.
I have always been a traveller at heart, one who finds great inspiration from experiencing different cultures and places. My first novel, Burning Embers, was born of a trip I took to Kenya as a young woman. My second novel, The Echoes of Love, had similar roots, having found its way into my imagination during trips to Venice during which I was most struck by the two faces of the city – that which the tourists flock to see, and that which is beneath the illusion, the mirage. As for Indiscretion, my romance with Spain began when I was in my early teens after I saw a film called Pleasure Seekers. The wonderful setting and atmospheric music made me dream and triggered my imagination. Then once I had visited that beautiful, sun-drenched country and met its hospitable, fun-loving, flamboyant people, I was charmed and the seeds for Indiscretion were sown.
I have written several novels now, and vivid setting is a common factor in each. From Kenya in Africa to Venice and Tuscany, Italy, from Andalucia, Spain to Luxor, Egypt and the Greek Islands – these are books born of my travels; of poking around in back streets and cafes; of meeting locals and exploring landscapes – and, of course, of reading extensively on cultures.
- What do think sets your books apart from other authors?
I think that it is my descriptive ability that sets my books apart from other authors. I have always been a writer who pays keen attention to setting; to describing carefully sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures. Since childhood I’ve loved writers who really paint a scene in your mind, and that was cemented when, as a young woman, I read French literature at university. I knew when I started writing romance that I wanted to transport my readers to the time and place in which I situate the story. Place holds such power to colour a story, and I believe any story must be firmly rooted in the ‘where’.
The following paragraph describes the scene that meets Alexandra, my heroine of Indiscretion, when she first gets off the train in Andalucia:
The station at the small port town of Puerto de Santa Maria swarmed with the oddest characters. Water sellers with huge earthenware pitchers and merchants selling wine, sweetmeats and shellfish bustled about next to the train. Brown urchins pushing barrows heaped with mountains of luscious fruit called out their offerings, ‘Que vengan todas las Marias, que traigo sandias y melons dulces como el caramel! Come all you Marias, I bring watermelons and melons sweet as caramel!’ Crippled beggars squatted in corners, palms outstretched. There were peddlers hawking their cheap wares of soap, matches, lace and miniature bottles of cologne, plus gypsy knife-sellers with trays of hand-crafted navajas, shouting ‘Afilo cuchillos y tijeras! Vamos barato! I sharpen knives and scissors! Come! It’s cheap!’, plus lottery ticket touts and a host of others.
Such description is typical of my writing, and it seems to appeal to readers, for many of the reviewers mention the exotic setting and the sense that the book offers an escape in transporting the reader to another world and another time.
For me, that journey is an essential element of a romance novel. The book must reach out and pull the reader into the pages – into the story world. Only then can we really experience the emotions of the characters. We read romance to feel romance. And to foster romance, setting is key. I can’t image my characters falling in love in a concrete multi-storey car park. But sheltering from a storm in a cave in the African wilderness, surrounded by the most vivid of flora, with the call of exotic animals on the air and the crackling of burning embers in the campfire – now that is a setting for passion.
- Can you tell us about your latest novel, Indiscretion? What drew you to write about Spain in the 1950s?
Indiscretion is the story of a young woman’s journey of discovery that takes her to a world of forbidden passion, savage beauty and danger.
The setting is spring 1950. Alexandra de Falla, a half-English, half-Spanish young writer abandons her privileged but suffocating life in London and travels to Spain to reunite with her long-estranged family.
Instead of providing the sense of belonging she yearns for, the de Fallas are riven with seething emotions, and in the grip of the wild customs and traditions of Andalucia, all of which are alien to Alexandra.
Among the strange characters and sultry heat of this country, she meets the man who awakens emotions she hardly knew existed. But their path is strewn with obstacles: dangerous rivals, unpredictable events, and inevitable indiscretions. What does Alexandra’s destiny hold for her in this flamboyant land of drama and all-consuming passions, where blood is ritually poured onto the sands of sun-drenched bullfighting arenas, mysterious gypsies are embroiled in magic and revenge, and beautiful dark-eyed señoritas hide their secrets behind elegant lacy fans?
Indiscretion is a story of love and identity, and the clash of ideals in the pursuit of happiness. Can love survive in a world where scandal and danger are never far away?
I decided to set Indiscretion in the fifties for three reasons:
1) Because it is a period I know well.
2) Because those fifty or so years have seen major changes in society and therefore there is much to explore in terms of romance in that era.
3) Because I was so taken by Spain that I knew that my inspiration would not stop at one book and I was giving myself the chance of writing a sequel or even a trilogy.
- What makes your heroine, Alexandra de Falla, so special? Did you base her character on anyone you know? Does she have some of your characteristics?
In Indiscretion, Alexandra, born from an English mother and a Spanish father, is a successful writer and a woman of independent means, which was rare in the 1950s. Adventurous, courageous and a fighter, she is able to convince her aunt Geraldine, who has brought her up and regards Spain as an outlandish, backward place, that it is important for her to travel to Andalucia to meet her estranged family and discover her roots – a rather modern attitude for those days. At twenty-five she is still unmarried, which again was unusual for women; most of her friends were already mothers at that age.
With this baggage behind her, when she comes to Andalucia Alexandra can hold on to some of the strong will and independence she has built up. When she arrives there, she comes up against the bigotry of 1950s Spain – the hero, his family and the wider society all adhere to ways she does not understand and, indeed, condemns because to her they belong in the dark ages. She is not afraid to speak her mind, which often brings her into trouble and creates friction with the man with whom she has fallen in love, despite herself.
Still, I’m also careful to make her a little lost in Spain, a little out of her depth away from home. You cast your heroine in a modern way when she’s at home, in her own setting; but then plunge her into an alien one that’s exciting and inspiring but also daunting and dangerous. Her reactions then form the balance between modern and ‘of the era’. In many ways, my heroines are caught in an interior battle between being ‘modern’ and being ‘old fashioned’ in terms of how they react to family responsibilities and to the men they meet.
Alexandra probably does have traits I’ve seen in real people. On my travels and during the periods I have lived in various countries, I have met so many interesting characters, so some of this is bound to come out in my writing. But there is no specific character or situation in my novels that is connected with people or events I’ve encountered.
Does Alexandra have any of my characteristics? All of the main female characters I write about have a little of me in them. Alexandra is, to a certain extent, naive where emotional experience is concerned, and that is definitely an element that reflects my own naivety when I was young. I was very protected as a child growing up in Egypt and the big, wide world came as something of a surprise to me when, in my early twenties, I began to travel. Alexandra definitely has that emotional freshness, which comes through immediately, a quality that Salvador, being a conservative Spanish male, finds highly attractive. Her unworldliness might land her in trouble (as mine did on occasion!) but, nevertheless, her innocence is not without charm.
- I love your book covers. Did you design them? Where did you get inspiration for them?
I love my book covers too! Unfortunately design is not my forte, so my publisher uses a designer, but my opinion was taken into account when they were in process. I wanted them to convey to my readers passion, exoticness and romance.
- Can you tell us about your first book, Burning Embers? Is it dearest to your heart
The seed of the idea for Burning Embers was sown many years ago when as a schoolgirl I studied the works of Leconte de Lisle, a French Romantic poet of the 19th century. His poetry is wonderfully descriptive and vivid about all the things that make me dream: from wild animals to magnificent dawns and sunsets.
Burning Embers is a passionate tale of the love between a young photographer coming to Kenya from England and an entrepreneurial plantation owner. I chose newly independent Kenya, Africa, as the setting. I had travelled to Africa as a young woman and fallen in love with the people and the wild landscapes. I knew this would be the perfect wild backdrop to a sultry love story with an undercurrent of danger and superstition. I chose to situate the action in 1970, because this was a pivotal time in Kenyan history, with new crashing up against old and a good deal of insecurity, and this offsets the development of the main character, Coral, from naive girl to mature woman.
Burning Embers is indeed the dearest of my romance novels to my heart. Maybe because it was my firstborn, and the first step to my finding the courage to put my work out there.
- What other fascinating locals are you thinking about writing for your next books
Since finishing Burning Embers, I’ve been unable and unwilling to stem the flow of ideas that completing my debut novel seems to have unleashed. I’ve so far written:
1) The Echoes of Love, a touching novel of secrets, tragedy and haunting love set in Venice and Tuscany, Italy.
2) The sensual and flamboyant Andalucian Nights Trilogy, the eventful story of the de Falla and de Rueda families that spans a period from the 1950s to the present day – Indiscretion is the first book, and the release of the second, Masquerade, is imminent.
3) An intriguing and exciting romance inspired by Greek mythology set on the Greek Islands.
4) A dark story of love and revenge set in Luxor, Egypt, the land of my birth, a world of deeply ingrained customs and traditions, interesting though often cruel.
I am now working on a love story that tackles contemporary women’s problems and is set on the French Riviera and on beautiful Lake Como.
I very much enjoy the publishing process and hearing from readers of my books. But for me, being a writer is not about publishing. It is simply about writing – writing from the heart the books that I most want to read. As the great American writer Toni Morrison said, ‘If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ And so I write – to please the little girl I once was who delighted in fairy stories at the knee of her governess; the young woman who lost herself in Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo and Charlotte Brontë; and the mother who cradled a baby in one arm while holding a romance novel in the other.
The most wonderful aspect to the path to being a writer, I think, is that there is no ending. The path leads on, wide and meandering, leading to exciting new places to explore and learn from.
- Do you think you will ever write a series or a book about generations of strong women?
There are many strong women in my family, the strongest being my paternal grandmother Ester Fanous, also known as Ester Wissa. Ester established the Egyptian Feminist Union to improve women’s knowledge of literature and to prompt them to be treated on an equal footing with men in rights and obligations. She significantly influenced national unity and the endeavor to emancipate Egyptian women. She was also a politician who stood beside my grandfather Fahmy Bey Wissa when he was a senator and a minister under Nahas Pasha before the 1952 revolution against King Farouk.
With such a legacy, I infuse strength and independence and courage into each of my heroines – and their antagonists!
This has really been a treat! I feel like I have travelled to the beautiful settings you describe. Thank you for taking the time for our interview!
Interviewed by Steph from the Bookaholics Romance Book Club.
For Additional Information about Hannah Fielding Check Out her website at:
Recent and Upcoming Books by Hannah Fielding:
Indiscretion - April 2015
Secrets, danger and passion under the scorching Spanish sun. Set in the wild landscape of Andalucia, Indiscretion is a compelling story of love and identity, danger and desire, and the uncertainty of happiness when two worlds collide. Written in Fielding’s signature style, infused with an old-school Hollywood glamour, Indiscretion evokes the drama and passion of 1950s post-war Spain.
Echoes of Love - Dec. 2013
The Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium, set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany. It is a tale of a lost love and betrayal, unbleached passion and learning to love again – and a terrible truth that will change the lives of two strangers forever.
Burning Embers - April 2012
Burning Embers is a contemporary historical romance novel set in Kenya in 1970. It depicts the developing attraction and love between a young and naive woman, Coral, who has come home to Africa, the land of her birth, and Rafe, a handsome, virile, commanding plantation owner who carries a dark secret heavy in his heart. It is an evocative and passionate story of coming of age, of letting go of the past, of having faith in a person and of overcoming obstacles to love, set against the vivid and colourful backdrop of rural Africa and its culture.