Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday Talk-Time: Why I Love Presents

PHS Columnist Kate Walker talks about why she loves the particular romance line she writes for - Harlequin Presents

(and for those of you still wondering - that's Presents as in Fanfare and trumpets - Harlequin presents . . .Kate Walker/Anne McAllister/Michelle Reid or whoever.
Not - Harlequin give you a gift - a present . . .)

When I first started writing romances,it was way back in prehistoric days before the UK lines were split in the same way that the USA ones were, so I didn’t think about whether I was writing Romance or Presents – I was just writing what my great friend, the brilliant writer Michelle Reid always says she writes – not Romances but relationship stories and I totally agree with her

Relationships – yes – I could write about those. And contemporary relationships meant that I could involve myself in all the problems and conflicts that beset even the greatest lovers at some points. But would it be Tender(Harlequin Romance) or Modern (Harlequin Presents) that would bring out the best writer in me? At the beginning there wasn’t any real need to choose – I wrote as my characters demanded - some stories were more intense than others. And that’s why some of my earlier books appear in different lines - Some went into Romance in America; some went into Presents. And when the time came that Editorial in UK decided to split the lines here too, then there was some debate as to which line I would be best suited to.

But I had no doubt. I knew that my characters – because I am a totally character driven writer – would best suit one line. How did I know? One word – intensity. No matter what is happening, my characters, my hero and heroine, always get very very intense about things. If I concentrated on what I wanted to write most, I created heroes and heroines who took everything so much to heart, Who felt so strongly, loved so deeply, and - yes – argued so ferociously – they could only ever fit into a Modern/Presents novel.

When I was thinking about this, I remembered one afternoon – a long time ago when I was at Junior School – I was about 10, I think. That afternoon there was a huge, violent storm and all the lights in the school went off so that we were sitting there in the dark. I love storms – love the vividness and the drama of them – the crashes and flashes, the downpours and the hailstones – but some of the other children were terrified. To distract them , our teacher, whose name was Mr Grogan, started to tell us a story. He held us spellbound, weaving a tale of a wild moorland farm, a mysterious gipsy boy, rescued from begging in Liverpool and brought to the house. It was a tale of intense passions, of fierce wild love and equally fierce hate. Perhaps some parents might have thought it wasn’t quite suitable for children of 10 or so – but I loved it. I just wanted the story to go on and on and on. But the storm ended, the weather improved, the lights came back on and we went back to the maths lesson that had been so wonderfully interrupted. I hated leaving the story where it had been broken off. I wanted to know what happened next. It took a long time before I realised that that story had not come from my teacher’s imagination but from the mind of a brilliant, unique female novelist. When I discovered that it was in fact Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I snatched at the book , desperate to know how the story ended.

As a writer, I’ve always wanted to have that same sort of effect on my readers – not that I’m claiming that my novels are classics like Wuthering Heights – but I want to grab my readers in the way that story grabbed me. I want them to be as keen as I was to know what happens, what came next, how things were resolved between these characters. And of course there’s the dark, brooding, potentially dangerous hero who has always fired my imagination too.

Part of the writer I am now was formed on that afternoon. I often wonder if Mr Grogan is still alive and what he’d think if he realised how important a part he played in my development into the writer I am today. And when I look back, I always think that the storm too – all those flashes and bangs and drama – are something of a symbol for the books I still love to write – and read.

Because what I love about Presents novels can be summed up in that word – intensity. It’s the intensity of the emotions that are created in the stories. The intensity of the passion that flares between the hero and heroine. And no I’m not just talking about sexual passion. There is that in Presents of course. . But I’m old enough to have read – and to remember when authors couldn’t go beyond the bedroom door and yet they still poured all that intensity and passion into their stories so that they held me gripped without using sex to demonstrate it.

Another word that explains the pull Presents has for me is ambiguity. I’ve always loved a book where the male character both attracted and repelled me. A man whose appeal to the heroine – and the reader - was clear, and yet whose behaviour always had that edge of uncertainty, of unease, of danger, about it so that you were never too clear whether he was the hero or the villain. And where as a reader I understood just why he was behaving that way.

Heathcliff had that effect on me – at least in that early part version my teacher told me. We never got as far as to see the full extent of his revenge when he came back as a grown man. And I was already a sucker for that flawed, ambiguous hero after reading my favourite childhood book ever – Simona’s Jewel (which was an old book when I first read it - honest!) It was an appeal that was fed by the first adult romances I latched on to – all Mary Stewart’s books with their dark, mysterious, seemingly dangerous heroes who are never quite what they seem. The Moonspinners gripped me even in the dreadful 1964 film version – but the books were something else again. And their heroes peopled my dreams when I was trying to write my very first stories.

Alpha heroes if you like – but Alpha in the true sense of the word meaning men who were powerful, capable and strong in their own right. It’s not the millionaire and fantasy world that Presents has become – my first books were published at a time when heroes didn’t even have to be described as millionaires, never mind the billionaires they’ve now become. But the problems these heroes face , millionaire, billionaires, plumbers, whatever they are, are ones that are problems of the heart and emotions. Problems they can throw all the monmey in the world at and it still won’t solve it .

Problems they have to use their hearts and feelings to solve. And that’s what makes them intense and that’s what makes them romantic. I’m often asked me the question 'Are you a romantic person.' I usually answer yes, but add 'if being romantic means caring deeply about things and about the other person.That's romance. That's caring for the other person more than for yourself. It's giving the person you love what they need - what they want - not what you think they want. True romance finds a way to love the person as they need to be loved.

So when I'm writing a romance, I'm not writing the sort of book that people describe as ' a soppy love story' or 'hearts and flowers' or 'chocolate box' romances where the heroine is moping around without a man in her life and then when she meets the hero she 'swoons away' or her heart races in her 'heaving bosom'. When I think of romance, I think of the way it originated as stories in medaeival times - when knights of old used to court ladies - and act as her champion and fight for her honour at a tournament or in a duel or in battle. That meant really fight. A knight could be injured, maimed, killed - he took great risks for his lady and often she took them for him too - because women had very little choice in who they could marry and dreadful things could happen to her if she fell in love with the wrong man.

Presents books are very different and yet very much the same. The heroes and heroines I write about today aren't likely to be executed or killed in a hand to hand fight (though there might be a risk of that in some suspense story) so perhaps the physical risks are less violent.

But the emotional risks are every bit as dangerous - the emotional stakes every bit as high - or they should be.

Love is something we all crave - something we all hope for, dream of, work towards. It's what adds a special value to life and puts a whole new light onto each day. But love can bring those dangers as well - the loss of someone you love is the most devastating blow you can suffer. It's when the chips are down, when the hard times come, when loving is a struggle, that real romance shows itself.

And that's why I write Presents. I write about characters who are faced with difficulties, with problems that could destroy their love- and they hang in there, fighting for what's important. For their love and the love of the other person. And all the clich├ęs in the world - all the money, power, red roses, perfume . . . can't solve those problems for them - it's only by going into their own hearts and having the courage to be honest and open that they can win this particular battle. They might not risk death like those knights of old - but they do risk the death of their hearts and that's the real danger for a human being, no matter what century they live in.

This is what is in my mind when I'm writing - that I need to show that this particular heroine is the love of this particular hero's life - and if I don't convince my readers that they're right for each other then I've failed. If they are going to be blown apart by some trivial problem or bicker so hard all through the story and then say 'Oh, I'm sorry - I love you' - it doesn't convince me - so how can it convince any reader? And if he treats her appallingly and doesn't have very good reasons for it - and she lets him walk all over her without a protest - then what sort of future would they have together? That's not love - and it's certainly not romantic, not in my book. My heroes sometimes make terrible mistakes and behave badly as a result -but the heroines fight back. And when whoever made the mistake ( because it can so often be the heroine as much as the hero) realises what they've done they do the best thing they can to put it right - because all the grovelling and apologising in the world is really pretty self indulgent - it not saying I'm sorry/I love you/I'll change over and over and over again - it's doing it. Or refusing to do something if you know it's wrong. Sometimes the hardest thing you have to fight for love is the person that you love!.

That's what I try to put into my books - strong passions, strong characters, strong love - which I hope creates a strong romance That's the main reason why I write Presents because the books offer me the chance to write about the things I believe in.

So when back in 1994, my then editor and I discussed what line I wanted to write for and I chose Presents she told me to go away and write to my 'Presents side' and I did. I wrote No Holding Back, and the I wrote Flirting With Danger and Hers For A Night . . . And I loved it. Maybe I could write Romance stories - I've published 11 of them, and they all sold very well. But with Presents I knew I'd come home.

Kate Walker's latest Presents novel - her November release The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife - is still available on Amazon, eHarlequin etc.


  1. And women all over the world are happy you did, darling!

    Lovely post!

  2. Kate, great post about why you love writing for Presents! You have brought Heathcliff back to me by way of your heroes. I feel all the spark and intense emotion that sparked my love of Wuthering Heights and more! Heathcliff was my first love.:D

    Hugs, JJ/Nancy

  3. Awww Donna - thank you! Oh - and watch the mail!

    Nancy how great to see you - I should have known you were someone who loved Wuthering Heights. Of course as an adult I always felt that what he did could never be truly justified even though he was so badly treated - perhaps that's one of the reasons why I always insist on such a code of honour in my heroes - I can't accept them taking an excessive revenge or revenging themselves on the wrong person.

    But I still need to feel that spark of danger.