Welcome to my new post in the Fanfic trail for the FanstRAvaganza 3. Ready to discuss North and South, Mr Thornton and Margaret's love story, with a great RA admirer who is also the author of a sequel of Gaskell's novel? Catherine (Cat) S. Winchester is my guest and has accepted to answer some questions about her Northern Light, and to discuss her vision of North and South with us. 
Leaving your comment + e-mail address you can win an e-book copy of the book. 

Welcome back to FLY HIGH, Cat, and thanks a lot for accepting to answer my questions about your sequel of North and South.  First of all, is there any particular reason  for the title you’ve chosen,  Northern Light?

I wanted to keep the connection with 'the North' of the novel but originally this was titled Northern Exposure, supposed to convey how Margaret had been changed by her time in the North.

I can't remember where Northern Light came from but it just fit as it isn't necessarily about either John or Margaret per se, more about their joint efforts to improve conditions for their workers and to be a beacon for change. 

Did you come to writing a sequel after reading  Mrs Gaskell’s novel or after watching the series?

Ah, well after I watched the mini-series I was desperate to know what happened next, so I read the book and was left with an even more abrupt ending! I read it twice and still needed to know what happened even more than before. It occupied a good deal more of my thoughts than is probably healthy.

I was actually half way through writing a vampire novel at the time but eventually I gave in and switched to writing Northern Light. I didn't know if there was a book in it but I needed to tell this story and once I put my mind to it, it turned out to have much more steam than I had imagined.

I didn't realise then what a monster on my hands! One hundred and thirty thousand words later I finally felt satisfied that I had told their story to my satisfaction. 

How much is due to Richard Armitage ’s charm?

Most of it probably, though unfortunately I don't have anything to compare his performance to. There is a 1975 version with a bewigged Patrick Stewart as Thornton which I would love to see but it isn't available. I think Patrick Steward would make a brilliant Thornton but alas I cannot compare and contrast them.

I suspect it would be like Mr Darcy though. I have seen a few versions of him now, some better than others but I have yet to see a performance that surpasses Colin Firth's.

I think Colin Firth will always be 'my' Darcy and Richard Armitage will always be 'my' Thornton. 

Do you think the series respected the original text? What do you think of the changes the screenwriter, Sandy Welch, made?

I can see why North & South fans were upset by some of the changes. In the book Margaret doesn't know what to do with a man like Thornton. She is from the upper classes and ministers to the poor but tradesmen are outside of her experience. Many of the aristocracy saw the wealthy middle classes as a threat to the landed gentry and while Margaret doesn't express that view, she is largely indifferent to Thornton.

Thornton imagines that she looks down on him (and I suppose she does) while he is morally upstanding throughout the novel, almost too good to be true. While his workers do suffer, he is always painted in a sympathetic light, as a better master than his peers.

If he has a flaw it is being masochistic in his unswerving adoration for Margaret, even after she hurts him.

In the mini series they made Margaret much less of a snob and gave her a reason to dislike John, with his temper while attacking Stephens, which even if justified was over the top and “thuggish”. It is human though, because we are all flawed in different ways.

I like Thornton's dalliance with Miss Lattimer as well as I think that trying to make someone who has jilted you jealous is normal and even if that wasn't his intent, most people's ego would want Margaret to know that she wasn't the only fish in the sea. He doesn't take things too far though and appear to use Miss Lattimer, so he is still a good hero.

Margaret isn't quite as strong and self sacrificing in the mini series, though on the whole she is still a sympathetic character but perhaps a little more relatable.

Personally I thought that  most of the changes were for the better, especially for a modern audience and since I saw the mini series first, I can't dislike the changes even if I disagree with them because I love the whole thing! 

Reading your book, I must say John Thornton is pretty much different from my own idea of him. Margaret seems his “weakness” and not his “strength” . “John truly adored his wife, mind, body and soul” ,  you say. He never gets angry with her, blames himself for everything happening to her, doesn’t seems too jealous when the occasion comes. Can a man with a temper like him become so different and so emotionally fragile for love?

I actually couldn't see much evidence of a temper in the book and he truly does worship Margaret. He can't even find a small amount of dislike for her when she rejects his proposal and in fact it makes his feelings for her stronger (which he does also say in the mini series). I would go so far as to say that at times he seems to have an inferiority complex when it comes to Margaret.

Even after he suspects that she is seeing another man, he protects her and the only anger he shows while he tells her that his “foolish passion” is over, is when she refuses to explain what was happening that night. Moments before that conversation he is still admiring her and he only presses the point that his feelings have changed because Margaret still seems cold and indifferent to him; only the readers know that her feelings have changed.

I honestly think that the only thing that could insight him to violence would be if he felt that Margaret or his mother were in danger or had been harmed.

John was always strong in his morals, in his ethics and in his business acumen, even before meeting Margaret and for me the only conflict in his character was his work ethic. He has been in business and supporting the whole family since he was 16 and up until he met Margaret, work was his life. I couldn't see any sign that he had ever been interested in anyone else romantically. Margaret finally showed him that there was more to life than work, which is a balance that at times he still struggles to maintain. 

Margaret’s emotional strength  seems instead indirectly proportional to that of her husband. She’s incredibly strong. We know she became stronger, wiser and more mature at the end of the novel. But what suggested you such a brave heroine would come from her?

She was always strong in the novel. Though she is educated in London by her rich aunt, when she returns home we are told

“Her keen enjoyment of every sensuous pleasure, was balanced finely, if not overbalanced, by her conscious pride in being able to do without them all, if need were.”

In the book Mr Hale tells Margaret of their move and leaves her to break the news to Mrs Hale because he can't face it. Throughout, she is the strong one, she is the glue that is holding her family together.

She's also quite closed off to people, other than her immediate family and this feels like a kind of defence mechanism. When they have their “foolish passion” talk for example, Margaret feels awful about lying to John and is in love with him but her attitude is cool and indifferent, despite how she feels.

The only time that she appears weak is with her own needs and wants, constantly putting the needs of others before her own. She could almost certainly have remained a companion to her cousin Edith after her marriage but she goes to Milton because her father needs her. She keeps Fred's secret even though he is out of the country by then and she desperately doesn't want Mr Thornton to think badly of her. I thinks she would like to remain in Milton after her father dies as she now considers it home but is content to be taken away by Mrs Shaw because society dictated that a woman shouldn't live on her own.

Her growth as a character is in overcoming her prejudice towards tradesmen (and one tradesman specifically) and learning what it means to love romantically. Mr Bell's money finally gives her a little independence to do something that she wants, namely helping Mr Thornton, though again she is sacrificing something (this time some money) to help him.

With such a strong and charitable character already, to then be nurtured, adored and supported by someone as strong as John, I believed that she would truly flourish. 

Mrs Thornton  and Margaret. I’ve always closed North and South thinking: I envy you John, Margaret dear, but not at all your future mother-in-law. Instead you seem to be more optimistic in your story …

Mrs Thornton is a strong character but not unreasonable. Her dislike of Margaret comes from her apparent snobbishness towards the north and her later refusal of John.

Mrs Thornton is a like a lioness protecting her cub but once she realises that Margaret is what will make him happy, she feels that she has no choice but to accept her or risk losing her son. She doesn't truly thaw though until she can see with her own eyes that Margaret has changed and loves him as much as Mrs Thornton does. Then Margaret is also in John's corner and so she becomes an ally rather than an enemy. 

Fanny and Margaret.  Why, instead, did you imagine their relationship to be more difficult, almost impossible (for most of the story) ?

Margaret Hale was like her own personal demon, sent to remind Fanny of everything she lacked. Whereas Fanny worked hard to appear ladylike and elegant, Margaret simply was those things.

Fanny is much the same in the book as in the mini series. She is a social climber, very shallow and even her own family don't have much time for her or her activities. She is indulged (possibly overindulged) but she alienates herself from her family as they are much too grounded to be anything but annoyed by her flighty ways. I think for the same reason, Margaret is unable to connect with her in any meaningful way.

I think breeding would also be important to Fanny and while she is rich and respected in her community, she has to work at being seen as a lady. She is the kind of woman who devours etiquette books so that she may appear to be the class she wants to and she looks down her nose at those who do not act as if they are of her adopted class.

Meanwhile Margaret is aristocracy (her mother being Lady Beresford before marriage). Margaret doesn't mind if she appears rich or poor because she knows which class she comes from and she has a strong moral core, which is far more important to her. She doesn't try to be anything that she is not, she doesn't try to be better than she is and indeed thanks to her fathers ministering, is quite happy to mix with the lower orders, whom I'm certain that Fanny would not be seen dead with!

I do however love Fanny and while I did want to round her character out somewhat and give her some depth, I didn't want her to lose her Fanny-like qualities. She is still prone to speak before she thinks, to give backhanded compliments and indeed her charitable endeavours have more to do with the handsome Doctor than any true desire to help the poor. 

How long did you work on the research and what  sources did you read for economical/ social/ historical background of your novel?

The research varied greatly and much of it I didn't use other than for cultural reference and to give me an understanding of the time and social history. Most of it was done online (google books is a godsend) and Victorian Web was great for social history. The 1851 census also had a lot of valuable cultural information and Measuring Worth helped put finances and buying power in to perspective.

The trickiest thing was getting the timing right because the Victorian period covered 70 years and social mores changed somewhat within that time.  Before Prince Albert died in 1861 for example, mourning followed the Georgian etiquette model rather than what we more traditionally associate with the Victorians.

The biggest single piece of research was finding a model village to base the new mill on and I finally settled on Saltaire as being in a similar region and time period. Thankfully there is a lot of information about it online and the only piece of information that I couldn't find was the costs involved in building it. I did find the costs for building some houses and a stately homes around that time but I didn't feel confident enough in my figures to state them, so I fudged. I have to say though, that is the only thing that I think I couldn't find out.

I have to add also that there are some misconceptions about the Victorians. For example some readers have brought up my mention of birth control but it was available then to those with means and education. Evidence for it's existence can be found not only from the differing numbers of children that the upper and working classes had but also found in newspaper advertisements, as well as a number of sponges, sheaths, caps (diaphragms) and douches from that time which are kept by the the British science museum. How effective each method was is a matter of opinion.

Some completely innocuous phrases today were scandalous then. The word pregnant is one example so while my characters never utter the word, it does appear in my narrative because constantly talking about “happy events” being “with child” and 101 other euphemisms the Victorians used, felt out of place to me as a modern reader and writer. Pregnant is a harmless word and I am not an 19th century woman. Neither are my readers.

The etymology dictionary was a great resource to find out if and when a word came into common use but some words, even if used then, aren't ones readers associate with the Victorians. Kindergarten for example (meaning child's garden) is another word that was gaining popularity in the 1850's as a school which nurtured the young mind. To my test readers however, it looked out of place as it is more commonly associated with modern America than Victorian England and so I changed it to a nursery and/or school. 

What are you working on at the moment? Any new book coming out soon?

I have just completed an original historical novel about a love affair between an Earl's son and a housemaid and I am in the editing states on my the third novel in my vampire series (the one I stopped writing to work on Northern Light).

The Author: Catherine S. Winchester

In a nutshell, I’m 34 years old, dyxlexic, an entrepreneur, an ex amateur ballroom and Latin dancer, a recovering alcoholic, animal mad writer!

I was born in East Anglia and went to private school. After college I started my first business when I was 20, going into partnership on a dating agency. During that time I learned HTML, a graphic design and anything else related to the business.

In 2003 I moved to Spain, simply because I wanted a new challenge and some sun. I lived there for 5 years and set up another business but things went sour when an ex began stalking me. After enduring 4 months of constant harassment, threats to my life, my families lives, being reported to almost every policing body on the planet for imaginary crimes and his various acts of vandalism with no help from the Spanish police, I decided to return home to my family. While I was away they’d upped sticks and moved to Edinburgh so I joined them there. I left that life with only two suitcases, my car and my dogs but I wasn’t running away, I was starting a new adventure!

I’ve been writing since I was in school, scribbling my musings in little notebooks. Thankfully we have come out of the dark ages now and I don’t need to subject anyone to my unintelligible scrawl! First I discovered the school computers (I’ll bet that gave the teachers a good laugh if they ever found my stories) then about 15 years ago I got my first home computer. I haven’t looked back since.

The book and the giveaway

Book description from Amazon.com
Sometimes described as the female Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell's classic novel, North and South, dealt with issues of class, feminism, social reform and the plight of the working classes, entwining those themes seamlessly with a timeless romance between Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Northern Light is a continuation of that novel which sees John and Margaret embarking on their lives together whilst working to improve the lives of their work force. 

With the threat of another strike, a series of bad mill accidents, a lethal fire and failed speculation, life in Milton is not easy for anyone and it won't be long before the mill masters and their workers clash once more, with devastating consequences. 

Getting married and starting a family is difficult enough at the best of times but for John and Margaret, married life will present unique challenges and despite the reforms they are making, even they will not escape Milton's troubles unscathed. 

Leave your comment + your e-mail address to win the e-book copy of Northern Light. The name of the winner will be announced on March 18th on the last day of FanstRA3. Good luck everyone!
Visit Catherine's official site and   her blogs C.S. Winchester and Mr John Thornton

Go on enjoying the FanstRAvaganza! You'll find other lovely posts about RA-related fanfic at Mr John Thornton's , Jo Ann's and Jas Rangoon's Blogs. 


Anonymous said...

Cat W, this is a great interview. It appears that you have caught a balance between film/Gaskell/your book. I thought Sandy caught this in the script, as film and book are not the same media. Cat, just keep writing. Dyslex be d*****.


Cat Winchester said...

Thank you fitzg, that's lovely of you to say.

And Maria, you ask some very interesting and insightful questions. Thank you so much for inviting be to be a part of this.


Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting interview. I usually have mixed feeling about the "what the characters did next" type of discussions and books, as we'll never really know where Gaskell would have seen them go. Perhaps I've just been scarred by Scarlett, which was definately not a good sequal to Gone with the Wind!
However, I actually agree with your assessmant of Thronton and Margaret's character. Which makes me want to read the book! Good job ladies!

Suse said...

Thank you both for this detailed and thought provoking interview. I have to come back to on Sunday to read it at leisure. I very much enjoyed reading Northern Light too.

Seccionista said...

Oh MG you always have such interesting interviews and giveaways. Thank you!

ana.teixeira1972 at gmail.om

Mulubinba said...

Thank you so much Maria and Cat for this interview. I rewatched North and South a few weeks ago, and I'm still picking up things I hadn't noticed before. I've often speculated about what happens after the final scene. Northern Light sounds a "must read"/

(The new book sounds good too - I will look out for it :) )

Cat Winchester said...

Iwanttobeapinup - Thank you :D Don't forget to leave your email address for a chance to win a copy.

Suse - Thank you, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the book.

Mulubinba - The mimi-series is full of little nuances that are easy to miss. I pick something new up each time I watch it too. I hope you enjoy the sequel.

Kelda said...

My favourite book and mini series ! Actually Cat , I have a question only . I have been trying to get a print copy of your book . I live in Canada and have had no luck . I was in Ireland in January and searched over there too for your book . Is Northern Light available in print form ? I'd love to get my hands on a copy . My mother would also love a read of it too and she would need a print copy .

Keldaodesse @gmail.com

Cat Winchester said...

Hi Kelda, it is available in print format but most book shops don't stock it.

Any bookshop can order it for you though, with the ISBN numbers, which are
ISBN-10: 1463575432
ISBN-13: 978-1463575434

This is the publisher's site

This is it on Amazon.ca

This is on Amazon.com

After shipping charges, I'm not sure which would be the best value for you.

I hope you enjoy it.

Kelda said...

Thank you Catherine !

bccmee said...

Ooh, I have this book on my Kindle, along with most or all of Cat Winchester's books. So far I've only had time to read one of them but soon I'll be finishing up the collection. Congratulations on your success and keep writing! Because we'll keep reading. :)

Cat Winchester said...

You're very welcome, Kelda.

Bccmee, I hope you enjoy the others and thanks for the support. :D

lunarossa said...

Wow, a sequel to North&South with the mini series and Armitage in mind, fantastic. After watching the series and finishing the book I was left wanting more. Now you're giving me this opportunity. Thanks, MG and Cat! Ciao. A.xx

Cat Winchester said...

Thanks, Lunarose, I hope you enjoy it!

rainakochan said...

I 'm so eager to end today's class so I can go home ans start reading your interviews