Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Talk-Time: Houses - The Third Character

It's Thursday, and today Medicals author Fiona Lowe is back to share some gorgeous photos and fantastic motivation!

As many of you know, I love to travel and I love getting off the beaten track and soaking up nature’s spectacular offerings. But sometimes a girl just has to visit a town and when I do, I soak up the local architecture. I wander around towns and cities taking pictures of public buildings and private houses. I love how much you can learn about the way people in that place live by looking at their houses and how they used to live by visiting their heritage homes. I ALWAYS end up with a house I want to put in a book!

The first time I had a really strong feeling about putting a house in a book was in The Surgeon’s Chosen Wife . I have always had a fascination for the historic Queenslander…a house on stilts with decorated wide verandahs to catch any passing breeze on a hot summer’s day. I didn’t consciously think about the house and its role in the book. My emotionally damaged hero came back to a house he hated and it was falling down around him. The house wormed its way into the story in such a big way that it became a motif … my run down house and injured and emotionally damaged hero were both rebuilt by the end of the book. The house became a vitally important third character.

Last summer as I sat in the tent at the beach reading the paper, I came across an ad for a magnificent sandstone home for sale in Sorrento. I ripped out the colour advertisement and tucked it away knowing that house HAD to go into a book. I didn’t have a story idea, I just had a spectacular house that didn’t remotely fit in the outback town where The Surgeon’s Special Delivery was set. Three quarters of the way through the book I needed to have Tess and Callum spend time with his parents and this house became the holiday house…just a destination. By the end of the book this house, “Westwinds” came to represent love, family and all the traditions Tess had never had growing up. Again, a third character.

My Warragurra Books started off as an idea to set two books in the same fictitious outback town. Australia used to ‘ride on the sheep’s back’ and up until about 1970, graziers of Merino sheep often had a lot of money and built stunning homesteads. Today they echo a bygone era. As a kid when I visited National Trust houses I used to imagine living there as the rich daughter. My mother always used to say, ‘more like the scullery maid!’ But I spun stories in my head about those gracious days and now I get to put these houses in books! Sandon Homestead in A Wedding in Warragurra started off as a homestead house. Suddenly because it was heritage listed, I had a business for Kate’s deceased husband -renovating old houses and town buildings. This permeated through the book, totally involving the town and its people, and ended up driving the story. The town became a vital character in the stories and I loved revisiting it in The Playboy Doctor’s Marriage Proposal.

It is a constant surprise that inanimate objects end up playing such significant roles in my books! Can you think of stories where a house or setting is a vital character of the story? I’ll send a copy of the book of choice from the ones mentioned above to one lucky reader!

Fiona Lowe writes for Harlequin Medical Romance and her books are often set in a small outback town, although her next book is set on an island! Her latest book, The Playboy Doctor’s Marriage Proposal is set in Warragurra and is out now on shelf in Australia or at The Book Depository. For more pictures of gorgeous settings visit Fiona at her website.


  1. Boy am I glad I distracted myself with a bit of web surfing today. I've been writing this morning and got stuck in the middle of a scene between my H&H. I've had a great idea from reading your post and can't wait to go back & write it - thanks :)

    BTW - the first book that comes to mind is Gone with the Wind. How much does Scarlett do for "Tara"?

    Cheers, Joanne :)

  2. Joanne, LOL, So glad I could be of help! Oh yes, Tara! What a great example. BTW my first teenage rebellion was refusing to go on a bush walk with my parents because I was reading 'Gone with the Wind.'

  3. Hi Fiona - I guess there's the house in Rebecca? Whats it called again - drawn a blank. But a more modern example is in Jenny Crusie/Bob Mayers Agnes and the hitman where the house is everything.

    The ST I'm working on at the moment has a house and a school as characters that everyone's fighting for.

    Great pics.

  4. Hi Fiona!
    I believe that setting is frequently a third character in our books. Since, like you, I write Medical Romance, I give the hospital credit as being that third character. The medical setting is vital in my books.

    I love grand houses and thank you for sharing some wonderful pictures. There are so many special homes in the world. Like you, I used to dream about living in them, and it was a great way to pass the time!

  5. You know I love to watch you travel :) Gives me hope...someday...

    The first thing that came to mind are the 'Greek" Presents stories. For many of them, Greece is a vital character. Thank goodness. I want to go so badly, but for now I'm only traveling in books.

  6. Amy, I think the house in Rebecca was 'Manderlay.' In fact I think the house features in the opening line in the book! So great you have a house everyone is fighting for. Houses can be very emotive.

  7. Lynne, Hospitals are SO multi faceted, aren't they. As a student nurse the hospital for me was work and home!

  8. HI, Jenna,
    Your time will come, honest! The kids grow up and travelling gets easier. I would LOVE to while away a lot of time on Santorini in Greece. Gotta love that blue sky and those whitewashed buildings and the vivid red geraniums.

  9. Hi Fiona

    Great blog! mmm, my example is about as far from romance as it could be... but.... I think the movie Insomnia is a great example of a setting being a pivotal character in a story. Those long, long, looooong Alaskan days driving Al Pacino's character to the edge of his sanity.


  10. Oh, Sharon, I know what you mean about 'Insomnia'. The location was a real character there.

    Hi Fiona. Like you I find locations make a real difference to my stories and bring them to life for me. My first book for Presents 'A Mistress for the Taking' was centred around Sydney Harbour and a terrific mansion right on the waterfront there and time spent in the area found its way into the story. Views of the water and a scene at the Opera House were incredibly vivid to me, and I'm sure that sense of locationhelped me write.

    To me each book has a different feel because of the location. My December story 'The Billionaire's Bought Mistress' begins in a wintry Swiss churchyard during a funeral and I swear I could feel the alpine chill as I wrote it.

    Some books with a strong sense of place for me: Michelle Douglas' 'The Loner's Guarded Heart' in an Australian bush setting so real I felt I was there, and Susan Napier's 'Mistress for a Weekend' which starts in the Auckland's telecommunications tower.


  11. Annie, Lovely to see you here!
    Yes, location adds so much texture. I was talking to a keen reader the other day and she adores outback stories. She was ploughing through a book set in the city by her fave author and missing the outback something shocking. I guess she loves the space of the outback when she visits and she relives those times when she reads. I always enjoy your Desert Kingdoms...I especially remember a rich scene where I could almost touch the mosaics

  12. Fiona --
    I do thin kthe houses can be so vital.
    Yes it was Mandeley in Rebecca. It was based on the house where Daphne Du Maurier eventually lived as a tenant. it is not open to the public but if you go to a certain spit of land, you can just glimpse it through the trees.
    There is Tara in Gone with the Wind.
    I thought the hotel in Kelly Hunter's Sleeping Partner was excellent. And I thoroughly enjoyed the way you used setting in your Vietnam book.

  13. Thanks, Michelle. Yes I have a very soft spot for A Woman to Belong Vietnam book. I adored our time visiting there.

  14. Fiona, you got me thinking about Jamaica Inn, where another of Daphne Du Maurier's books was set. I know it's an inn rather than a beautiful house, but we went there when our children were young and it was exactly how she had portrayed it in her book. But then we went back some years later and it had been completely changed. I'm afraid to ever go there again. I hate it when the iamge you've carried around in your mind for so long is spoilt.

  15. Margaret, Thanks for dropping by. I know what you mean about carrying around an image in your head. I was like that with Green Gables from the Anne books. I finally got to PEI and visited the houses but Green Gables wasn't quite how I had pictured it in my head. I still enjoyed it and now as an author I understand the license that we take . My last town I created was based on the best parts of three. GG was much the same

  16. Hi Fiona,
    Boy, you really do like the travel - even the blogsites ;-P

    I have an example that is also very far removed from romance - The Amityville Horror. The whole story centres around the house - but it's definitely not a home.


  17. Joanne is the lucky winner of her book of choice with the great suggestion of Tara. Please contact me on with details

  18. woo hoo - thanks Fiona :)

    I'll email you now :)

    Cheers, Joanne