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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Brooding with the Brontes - Interview with N.B. Roberts

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Before I present my post, I need to acknowledge that today is a very special day - it's the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth!  Happy Birthday Charlotte!

For Brooding with the Brontes, I reached out to a lovely author, who wrote a fantastic Jane Eyre inspired novel called "Halton Cray" (which I reviewed on my blog), for her Bronte related thoughts, since I found her novel so fascinating and was curious about her experiences and thoughts on the Brontes.

Her follow-up novel to "Halton Cray" - titled The 13th Baronet, is coming soon, and the author was kind enough to share the cover and a teaser from the second book with my blog!  Check it out below.  And thank you so much for your time Nicola!

Q. With your novel Halton Cray being inspired by Jane Eyre, I know you are a big fan of Charlotte’s novel, but what are your thoughts on the other Bronte novels you’ve read?

What’s so striking to me is how different the Bronte books are from one another; the authors had distinct styles, and I love their works in different ways. Wuthering Heights is my second favourite and I’m particularly fond of those first few chapters, with Mr Lockwood grasping a cold hand through the window: it’s a chilling discovery that kept me reading this intense, fiery tale. It’s full of dislikeable characters, but who I enjoyed reading about. In that sense, I found it as brutally honest as the ruthless climate, and ultimately not a romance at all, but a tragedy. I appreciated the story much more on reflection than during reading, probably due to the extreme and contrasting dialect used to show the class divide, which is vital to the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, but ultimately creates a bit of work for the reader. I’m no stranger to broad northern English accents (my father is from the north, my mother from the south), but I struggled with some of the northern vernacular. I really wanted to immerse myself in the unfolding of such a stormy and engrossing tale, but the stop-start of constant translation took me out of the flow a little. It was only once I had a complete picture that I could admire it for the excellent work it is.

It’s been a while since I read Agnes Grey. Anne’s writing is so different from her sisters; it’s less dramatic, quite simple and yet engaging. I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and so far, I prefer her second novel; there’s more mystery and conflict, and a little more gothic flavour too. It’s told from a young man’s perspective, and though his character is unlike that of Jane Eyre, I can see some similarities to the plot structure if you switch the genders of the main characters. It is the mysterious Mrs Graham in the mansion who eventually relates her tragic history which all began with a ‘capital error’. I do enjoy Anne’s way of delivering a story, with clear, clever prose and thorough characterisation.

Obviously, Jane Eyre is my favourite! Of Charlotte’s other novels that I’ve read, Villette would be my next. I possibly made a mistake in starting it with the idea of continuing ‘Jane Eyre’, or perhaps I genuinely felt, to some extent, that I was reading a new version of that book, where Jane, styled as Lucy Snowe, travels abroad to be a teacher... This feeling lessened the further I read, and then I was able to enjoy the story more on its own merits, even though there were times when I felt a little lost in the story. Charlotte’s writing style always prevailed to keep my attention. I’m not as passionate about Charlotte’s other books as I am about Jane Eyre.

Q. And as a follow up to that question - why does Jane Eyre appeal to you more than the others?

Primarily because I find Jane’s character so relatable, and through her narrative I found the story absorbing. She’s interesting and likeable from the first page; I had to know what would become of her every step of the way. The more I knew of Jane and her situation, the more I understood her and cared about her. She’s the most admirable character I’ve ever read, and not just through her decisions and actions, but in attitude too: I love how she determines to fight off self-pity, and to love and respect herself because nobody else will. She takes responsibility for herself, and actively seeks the adventure she craves, in a time when that was incredibly difficult for a young woman. She is consistent, and yet manages to shock by spurning convention and telling Mr Rochester they are equals.

For me the novel has a bit of everything! Childhood neglect, school bullies, poverty, injustices, life and death, madness, humour, all carefully woven around the struggle for inner strength and outer recognition, with a brilliant love interest and a dark secret. All this and it’s so well crafted. I love the author’s bravery in writing characters who are not perfect, nor beautiful by conventional standards, almost as a way to challenge you to love them anyway. If anything, I loved them more for it.

Q. Your writing explores dark, Gothic themes - what is it about the genre that appeals to you? Do you have any ideas about why the Brontes wrote predominantly in that genre?

The atmospheric settings enthral me most while preparing me for something suspenseful and intense. I love mysteries and solving puzzles, so it’s extra exciting when you don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes; with Gothic I almost feel like the possibilities are endless, and I want the revelation to surprise or shock me. I love the originality that often accompanies these stories. Some of the pictures painted by classic novels of the genre are of a bygone craftsmanship that really appeal to me, and I enjoy learning from them. When it comes to writing Gothic stories, I find a sort of comfort in concocting those settings, feelings of dread and scenes of mayhem. It raises my excitement, especially when adding the paranormal, to explore the boundless unknown.

I think that the Brontes wrote what they knew and were heavily influenced by their surroundings. They lived their own books to some extent, whether that was being in love with an unattainable man, or living with an alcoholic, or venturing off across the wild moors, but also coming up against the everyday struggles of women in those times. At the Haworth parsonage they were surrounded by death and the reminders of it, and will have known the wind and the moors as a next-door neighbour providing the perfect setting for those sentiments.

Q. The Brontes started writing when they were very young, so I’m curious - when did you start writing your own stories? And what were they about?

I really don’t remember precisely when I started, but I know I was enjoying writing short stories and poetry around the age of ten; at that time my favourite thing was to write my stories in verse. Even then, these had a dark or paranormal theme, which was perhaps influenced by growing up in a house we thought was haunted. I wrote in other genres too, such as sci-fi and fantasy. The first series of books I started writing many years ago was a fantasy adventure, with fictional lands, strange creatures, cities and villages, often at war, that just grew out of my control. Considering the success of Game Of Thrones maybe I should have stuck at it! I was too inexperienced as a writer to know what I was doing at the time. It was, however, a great literary workout for me.

Q. Since you live in England (of which I am forever jealous!) have you visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum? What were your initial impressions of the former home of the Brontes?

I feel so lucky to have been! I got goosebumps when I entered the parsonage for the first time, looking in on where they slept, what they wore and did by the order of the day. It’s a splendid house, and quite the place for penning Gothic novels! Seeing where they wrote and shared their works with each other made me feel as though I understood their novels better. Charlotte’s bedchamber had the most emotional effect on me, I suppose because she died there, and I wondered how much of her work came from being in that room that overlooks a sea of graves. I don’t doubt she would have dreamt up parts of Jane Eyre in that room too. The house and museum are so well loved and preserved; the staff were just wonderful, and I highly recommend it to any Bronte fan. Quite apart from the Parsonage, Haworth and the Moors are evocative and worth exploring in their own right. I do hope to return soon!

The 13th Baronet - Cover and Teaser

Thom rested his head on the back of the sofa, his eyes closing a little. Considering where he had gone, I wasn’t surprised he looked glum.

He turned his head to look at me. ‘How very patient and calm you look sitting there, Alex, as though I’d been away playing golf these last two days and you simply missed me. You are madder than I ever hoped.’

‘I’m not so patient and calm on the inside, I assure you. I have questions that I don’t know how to phrase; that I’m not even sure I should ask, but they can wait.’

‘Alex…’ He lifted his head to look me square in the eye. ‘It’s perfectly natural to be curious. Ask your questions.’

I tried hard to frame one but couldn’t. He made it easier.

‘You were saying that you saw me in the mausoleum. So you have undoubtedly deduced that my undertaking ventured onto a different path.’ ‘You said you were just visiting them,’ I muttered.

‘I hadn’t decided anything more, Alex. Until I arrived, I wasn’t sure I would have it in me to do what I hoped to do.’


‘Alex, ask me. Don’t let the morbid questions answer themselves in that wildly inventive brain of yours.’

‘Did you exhume them yourself?’ I whispered.

‘I did.’ His blue eyes looked particularly dark while saying so.

‘So this is why you didn’t want me to go with you,’ I said.

‘Did I say that?’

‘Yes, you said you’d prefer it if I didn’t go.’

‘And quite rightly too; your grave-digging days are over, I hope!’

‘Did you…’ I began, hesitating a moment. ‘Did you know it was them?’

‘They were not, of course, recognisable. But my heart and my instincts tell me it was them. I’m satisfied.’

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