Welcome to FanstRAvaganza #day3! This post is in the Fanfic Trail. If you've missed the previous posts check Jo Ann, Mr John Thornton, Fedoralady. Today you'll find Fanfic for FanstRAvaganza also at Cat Winchester's Blog.
What follows is my interview with Trudy Brasure, the author of A Heart for Milton, a sequel of North and South by Mrs Gaskell. There's a giveaway linked to this post. Leaving your comment + your e-mail address, you'll get a chance to win a paperback copy of the book. On March 18th, on the last day of the FanstRAvaganza, the name of the winner will be announced. Enjoy our chat and ...
Good luck! This giveaway is open worldwide.
Interview with Trudy Brasure
First of all, Trudy, when did you decide to write your sequel? Was it after reading North and South or after watching the series? Also, your story starts as a ‘what-if’ and proposes some changes to Gaskell’s plot. Can you tell us a little about that?
I happened upon the miniseries quite by accident, and was utterly captivated by the whole story, but especially by Richard’s performance. I sought out Gaskell’s book very soon after, having never heard of her before. It’s now my secular bible! I couldn’t stop thinking about the adaptation those first few months, especially the agonizing goodbye scenewhen Margaret leaves Milton. I began to imagine how these star-crossed lovers might have avoided the pain of separation for that last year. I was convinced that if Margaret had known that John still loved her, they could have come to some understanding. I was obsessed for weeks. Slowly, a scenario evolved in my mind that would change the outcome of that scene. It became clearer and clearer to me, so I decided to write it out. I had never written fiction before, but once I started, the ideas kept flowing.
Was Richard Armitage your muse for Mr. Thornton while writing?
Absolutely, from the sound of his velvet voice to the way he crinkles his brow.
What did you like in his interpretation of brooding John Thornton?
The intensity he brought to the character. Every move of his muscles, every subtle eye movement, the tenor of his voice - absolutely everything he did revealed the intense emotions of this man. We could feel his heartache, his desperate longing, and his profound joy and relief when Margaret finally accepts him. And the brooding...talk about intense! It was just an amazing performance - every second of it. And this is exactly what was needed for the part because although Gaskell gives us glimpses into Thornton’s passion for Margaret in written prose, the viewer in the adaptation can only recognize it by Thornton’s body language and voice inflection. No one can watch this performance and not recognize how much this man aches to claim Margaret for his own.
Your Mr. Thornton is very tender, romantic, thoughtful and generous like Gaskell’s hero. Did you add or change anything to his character in your book?
Well, I think it would be natural to expect that once he has secured Margaret’s affections and becomes a husband, he will be quite a different man than the dark, brooding man we saw for most of the miniseries. He will be more relaxed, joyful, and gratefully content. His character will still be hard-working and strong, but his innate tendencies toward compassion and tenderness will be brought out with Margaret by his side. In my book, I give the newlyweds some time to discover each other - alone - on their honeymoon. I envisioned that during this time Margaret would help bring out a playfulness in John that we had never seen. I think the joy of their new intimacy would naturally bring this out.
What about Margaret? You’ve made her a very passionate lover, totally mesmerized by her husband, almost addicted, brave and bold in loving him. Do you want to tell us about your decisions in regard to this change in her?
Who wouldn’t be mesmerized if a man like Thornton/Richard was in love with you?! Actually, I think it’s in line with Margaret’s developing character. Gaskell writes that “Margaret was not a ready lover, but where she loved she loved passionately...” She’s most definitely not a ready lover - it takes her quite a while to come to terms with her feelings for John. But I believe that when she does finally come to that realization - that she loves him - she will be a strong and true lover, a fair match for John’s great passion. If we look back to how brave and bold she was in supporting and protecting her father and her brother, we can see how unwavering and unflinching her loyalty and devotion is for those she loves. John perceives this strength of her character in the book: “Yes! he knew how she would love. He had not loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her. Her soul would walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win back her love.” Margaret would love freely and wholly when she felt the security of being loved in return. And I think that John would also walk in this ‘glorious sunlight’ to be loved like that.
Do you really think such strong personalities will have a smooth, peaceful married life? Circumstances will always bring their own difficulties, but I do believe that Margaret and John would generally have a very harmonious marriage. I’ve considered the characters of the book deeply and I have several reasons for believing in my vision. First, I think it’s important to remember that we only see Margaret and John arguing in the first half of the book. After he declares his love for her, there are no more arguments between them. None. In their early encounters, Margaret’s idealism clashes with John’s strict adherence to logic and business principles. One of the great themes of the book, however, is how much Margaret and John learn from each other as events unfold. Among other things, Margaret learns that there are no easy answers to the problems of the real world and John learns to blend compassion with his business principles. By the end of the book I think they have a very similar philosophy.
At the very least, they have come to understand and respect each other’s viewpoints. Does the fact that our two lovers have strong wills necessarily mean that they will be forever clashing? I don’t believe so. There’s a fine line between being strong-willed and self-willed. Our two lovers have great resolve and determination in doing what they feel must be done, but I don’t believe they act to pursue their own gain without regard to others.In my perception, a tempestuous relationship in which there is much arguing is often due to immaturity and petty selfishness by one or both parties.Both Margaret and John have demonstrated a tremendous ability to be self-sacrificing and wise. If these two disagree occasionally, it would be about something substantial. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to assume that these two would be argumentative other than their brief confrontations in the earlier part of the book, which was largely due to a misunderstanding of each other. John has lived with a strong-willed, opinionated woman all his life - his mother! They disagree often, but quietly. Margaret spends most of her time in London and in Milton doing what is necessary for the good of others. She is not boisterous or demanding, but very often compliant and selfless. After the months of suffering these two endured before they finally were brought together, I believe they would carefully cherish the precious bond of their new relationship, especially throughout their first year together. John would not be foolish enough to crush Margaret’s freedom or dismiss her opinions. In fact, he listens to her and expects her to speak her mind. And Margaret would not willingly seek to tell her husband what to do in mattersin which she is not fully knowledgeable. I think their bond would be strong and grow even stronger because they deeply respect and love each other. Gaskell goes to great lengths to show us how Margaret and John endure hardship individually with fortitude and perseverance. I always imagined that, once united, they would be a force to be reckoned with in facing adversity together.
You especially focus on the romance between John and Margaret. There are lots of very romantic and even steamy scenes. Did you want to fill in the gap Mrs. Gaskell’s Victorian prudery had left?
Well, since Mrs. Gaskell leaves us just as our lovers finally come to an understanding, she had very little opportunity to show us much of their physical relationship! (Although we get a very good hint: John demands payment for his pressed flower in the form of some ‘delicious silence.’) We see John happy for what, a page or two? It’s so achingly brief! That’s what so delicious about writing a sequel - I can give the reader pages and pages of John’s happiness and describe my vision of how it would be for Margaret and John to walk in that glorious sunlight! It was not my main intention to write a steamy novel, but to show the bliss of new love between these two characters. It would be difficult to express the deep unity and passion between Margaret and John without revealing a little of what their wedded life might be like. There’s little doubt that things would be rather steamy in this marriage. I love Mrs. Gaskell’s statement about her rushed ending: “I’m not sure if, when the barrier gives way between 2 such characters as Mr. Thornton and Margaret it would not all go smash in a moment - and I don’t feel quite certain that I dislike the end as it now stands.” Once these two realized their love for each other, things were bound to get passionate! I think Mrs. Gaskell was glad to be able to step away from the story at this point as there was little more she could convey that would be appropriate for a magazine entitled “Household Words!”
I’ve always closed ‘North and South’ thinking that I envied Margaret for winning a man like John Thornton, but was not envious at all to think that she had to live with Mrs. Thornton! You were more optimistic than I.
Mrs. Thornton is an intimidating figure, isn’t she? She never smiles and always wears that somber black dress! I admire Mrs. Thornton, although she does have her faults. She idolizes her son. I can sympathize with her strong attachment to John. Who wouldn’t be fiercely proud of a son like that? She and he faced those dark, desperate years after her husbands’ suicide together and fought their way to success. She’s an amazing woman. The cause of Mrs. Thornton’s animosity toward Margaret is clear. She is first annoyed to discover that Margaret looks down on her son. Mrs. Thornton cannot respect anyone who doesn’t see how wonderful her son is. She is galled to no end when Margaret rejects him! I think once she truly perceived that Margaret admired and adored her son, her animosity would drop away. I don’t believe she would continue to hold a grudge or let jealousy fester when she witnessed how happy her son is with Margaret as his wife. Mrs. Thornton admires Margaret’s courage and spirit, and I think they would learn to get on well with each other over time.
Did you work on any historical research to write ‘A Heart for Milton’?
Yes. You’ll never know how many details a historical writer looks up, but I think a good writer will make everything flow so naturally, you’ll never imagine the work involved. I researched Victorian social customs, clothing, Christmas celebrations, the postal system, the available bathroom fixtures, and the types of dances and arrangements held at a ball of that era. I discovered that Queen Victoria’s favorite home was on the Isle of Wright, and that the post in London was delivered not once, but several times a day. Of course the most obvious research I did was for my epilogue. I’ve long studied the American Civil War and it was very interesting to understand the effect that catastrophic event had on the cotton industry in England.
You ended your stories presenting the new Thornton generations. Are you preparing a sequel to your sequel?
Oh heavens, no! I brought these characters into the story to show that this incredible love match left a far-reaching legacy. I wanted to leave the reader with the impression that a life of great love and devotion can change the world - or at least a corner of the world! That’s the essence of my epilogue - that love, in its higher sense, can be a force for good that lifts the lives of many.
Trudy Brasure is a hopeless romantic and a history enthusiast with a penchant for the Victorian Era. She enjoys steeping her imagination into the past to create stories that entrance the heart as well as capture the essence of the age. She writes most often in the morning, before her three children awake and homeschooling begins. The author began her own personal romance story with a whirlwind courtship. Her married life started in a picturesque colonial town on the coast of Massachusetts. She now resides in California, where she and her family endeavor to enjoy the beauty of nature whenever possible.
Visit her website at www.aheartformilton.com