I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview with N.B. Roberts, author of Halton Cray

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,

On Wednesday I reviewed the Jane Eyre inspired novel "Halton Cray" by N.B. Roberts and I'm delighted that the author agreed to do an interview for my blog!  I hope you'll enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!  And if you are a fan of Jane Eyre, Gothic, paranormal, or suspenseful romance, definitely check out "Halton Cray"!

And find N.B. Roberts on:

Q: What is your "Jane Eyre" origin story? When/Why did you first read the novel and what were your first impressions?

I've always loved period dramas, and while subscribing to a ‘classics’ DVD collection in my mid-twenties, I received a free paperback copy of ‘Jane Eyre’. Up until that point, I struggled to find books that enthused me to turn pages, despite reading in various genres. I had been under the illusion that classic works were written in an archaic style I might not grasp. Having Jane Eyre (the book) in front of me, I determined to read it before cheating with the TV adaptation – and so glad I did; I discovered my kind of novel! Jane Eyre kindled my interest in reading other classic works too.

From turning those first pages, the relationship that Charlotte Bronte establishes with the ‘reader’ was the hook for me. Jane, as a child, has a love for books with pictures and exciting titles. I felt that she couldn't see a book as interesting otherwise; she couldn't see beyond the boring black text – what interest could that hold? That was me as a child; I resonated with that, and the fact that Jane has a tough time at school. Jane’s experiences in many respects put my own complaints to shame. Watching Jane mature and take control of her life was mentoring to me, and I felt I could be anything I wanted to be. Though I found the author’s wit and turn of phrase absorbing, the story became enthralling and truly entertaining when Rochester appeared. In short – I couldn’t put it down. It will always be a book I return to for encouragement, comfort, and comedy!

Q: "Halton Cray" has some very striking horror elements and is in many ways more Gothic than "Jane Eyre". What inspired you to make the story darker and introduce a paranormal element?

I have a *slight* fascination with the macabre anyway; a love for Edgar Allan Poe tales, Vincent Price movies, gothic horror in general – adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula (1993) are among my favourites. It wasn't long after first reading Jane Eyre that I began compiling notes for Halton Cray. At that point I was reading the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. But I was keen to expand on the darkness I saw in Jane Eyre and explore. The horror in Bertha viciously attacking her own brother is only hinted at because Jane doesn't witness it first-hand. Even the way in which Bertha’s end was described to Jane is rather gruesome, and again, only a hint at the darkness of what happened. Jane also alludes to the supernatural to explain how she heard Rochester call her name from Ferndean,and he heard her reply. I saw an opportunity to magnify the darkness and weave my favourites together. Additionally, in Halton Cray, Thom is not the best behaved man on the planet. Therefore, my villain had to be really bad…

Q: Halton Cray, the house, is described in detail in the book, along with the workings of running a 'historic' home in England. What kind of fun research did you do for that aspect and is Halton Cray based on a real house?

The research was especially fun because I got to do something I love in exploring historic houses. I have a deep-seated admiration for the architecture and domestic stories. While writing, I was working as a software analyst, so I didn't have much of an idea on a curator’s responsibilities in a stately home: learning that role for Thom was an enjoyable challenge.

I feel lucky to have grown up within walking distance of a reputedly haunted Tudor manor, which provides my mental picture for the Halton Cray estate. Our National Trust manages it and they do a marvellous job. I am though a little sceptical about naming the house because I feel it may colour a reader’s interpretation of my setting. Having said that, if anybody is curious to know – I have had emails asking for more information – I will happily send them a link to this particular house. I spent the best days of my early teens there annoying the poor staff who were incredibly good to allow unaccompanied children inside. They were great too when I would phone them or turn up to ask odd questions such as ‘what would happen in a power cut?’

Q: What was your favorite scene to write in "Halton Cray" and why?

It’s difficult to pick one, but I’ll go for the blackout scene, which you mention in your review. That was a lot of fun to write, and I really enjoyed making dialogue dominant over general narrative. It was an exciting challenge to incorporate various elements of the book in one scene: the mystery, panic, and romance all thrown into the mix. It makes you wonder what you would do in that situation, whether you would stay cool or lose it.

Q:  I found the chemistry between Alex and Thom to be a highlight of the book - I was wondering if you had any tips for how to write/craft a good romance?

Thank you – I’m glad you felt that. It depends on what kind of romance would best fit a story. I don’t personally like insta-love. If going for a slow burn romance as I did with Alex and Thom, then the best advice I could give would be to read Jane Eyre (*grins*). A few key things I identified were:
  1.  Establish good/clear motivations for why your characters are drawn to each other. A durable romance based on him falling for her because she looks good in a pencil skirt isn't going to add chemistry, because it isn't going to add depth or understanding from a reader’s perspective. To help create those motivations, look at what your characters need and give that to their intended.
  2. Gradually does it. Don’t rush your characters in love. It is nothing new to have your lovers not even getting on in the beginning (Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett are a well-known example); whatever works for your story to keep that build-up gradual, giving you plenty of time to have them challenge, explore, and appreciate each other. A misunderstanding, bit of jealousy, and the big will-they-won’t-they question never did any harm.
  3. Last but certainly not least! And this is a must when following no. 2, your characters need to make some physical contact occasionally, and their reactions need to be highlighted. Don’t rely on the reader taking the hint. If your character liked that his fingers brushed against hers, say so. She liked it.
Q:  Will the rest of the books in the Shadows of the World series have some inspiration from Jane Eyre? Or another book?

As with Halton Cray, the sequel will certainly inherit some elements of Jane Eyre, but does continue on more of its own path, with the occasional nod to Brontë’s work.

Q:  Just for fun - do you have a film dreamcast for Alex and Thom?

This is a tough one to answer, because before now I have never put an actor’s face to any of my characters. I would love to see the wonderfully versatile and talented Abigail Breslin play Alex. And since this is a lot of fun, I would nominate two actors to play Thom: Sam Claflin as seen through Alex’s eyes; he’s such a cheeky looking guy as well as a superb actor. Plus, check out the dimples! – And Norman Reedus, but as seen through everybody else’s eyes, because to me he can look truly sinister. Ha!

DREAMCAST!  L-R: Abigail Breslin for Alex, Sam Claflin and Norman Reedus for Thom

Q:  And because I have to ask one more "Jane Eyre" related question - which adaptation is your favorite?

Despite it being a less than perfect production, the 1983 BBC adaptation is my favourite. It captures everything from the book I want to see on screen. I really enjoyed Zelah Clarke's spirited performance of Jane. And I just loved how Timothy Dalton captured Rochester: his exacting and rather compelling tone – particularly when teasing Jane – met up with my idea of the Byronic hero from the novel. I had previously seen Mr Dalton in various roles when I was a child, such as James Bond, but I really rated him as an actor after seeing this series. His portrayal even became an inspiration for me when writing Thom's teasing of Alex. Although Timothy Dalton is a deal too striking in looks, he is in every way the perfect Rochester, and is additionally deserving of the role for playing the part of the gypsy! which still makes me laugh aloud – ‘Off ye lendings!’

Of course, being a TV series gave it sufficient coverage of the book, but what I really appreciated was the ample interaction between Jane and Rochester to warrant the profoundly passionate connection they formed; that coupled with the use of original text, this is by far my favourite.

I have to say, if I was in a similar situation with the blackout scene in this book, how I would react would depend on two things.  One -is Thom there to save me?  Because then I wouldn't panic, and two - if there are other people panicking like crazy, then I would most definitely endeavor to keep my cool!  And about the dreamcast - I love the author's choices, but Sam Claflin I double love!

Thank you for your fantastic answers N.B.!  And please everyone check out "Halton Cray" on Amazon or Goodreads!

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