EMERALD. What’s in a name? First and foremost, green is a powerful colour. It conveys the wonder of nature but it is also the colour of envy and jealousy.
A really fine emerald is rare and worth more than a flawless diamond.
A spirited woman born with startling green eyes and the courage to seek out her destiny is a rare thing as well.
EMERALD took a long time to write. The Elizabethan period is so rich in detail and texture and complicated social dynamics that it is all too easy to get side tracked by research. I read shelves of books on medicine, costume, manners, cooking and social behaviour, all fascinating and there are hundreds more I could still read.
However, the challenge of writing a historical novel is to set aside the research and create a world that is utterly convincing in its time and in its own right.
When I first began to write EMERALD, I wrote it in the third person just as I had written my two earlier historical novels WENDY and THE UNRIVALLED SPANGLES but this time it didn’t work. The story became stiff and unwieldy and the character of Emerald, too remote. So after many false starts, the breakthrough came when I changed to first person and built up the character of Emerald in the same way as I built up the narrator, Nancy, in RASPBERRIES ON THE YANGTZE and CLIMBING A MONKEY PUZZLE TREE.
As soon as I looked at the world through Emerald’s eyes, she became alive and as it turned out, a lot of the emotional territory she had to learn to cross was territory I had travelled myself. And some of the scenes were very uncomfortable to write.
As much as EMERALD is about a young woman who rises to challenges set by others and in doing so, saves her Queen and finds the man she will marry, it is also an exploration of love and the absence of it and the role mothers play in a young life.
Even Queen Elizabeth I, the only ‘real’ person in the story, was brought up without a mother.
In EMERALD, characters cope with this challenge in different ways and with greater or lesser success. Some of the friendships that develop are as much a healing process as anything else. The need for mother love is supplanted by kindness and loyalty. Other attempts to cope end in disaster.
Betrayal, deceit and overweening ambition are other themes that I have explored in EMERALD. However, within these dark and troubled threads, there are comic, intimate, laugh out loud moments, which serve to keep the novel in balance.
My favourite comic character in the book is Meg. An urchin of a girl who is fiercely loyal to Emerald, yet mischievous and in many ways completely uncontrollable. Meg brings comic lightness to the events around her but she also brings the clear thinking of the innocent. And Emerald instinctively listens to her.
Sarah straddles the world between Meg and Emerald. She is a young woman from a decent family whose circumstances have forced her to work for a living. When they were little, she and Emerald played together. When the story begins Sarah is working as a kitchen maid but as events unfold, her role changes and she becomes Emerald’s greatest ally.
And of course, there is Arabella - the ‘baddie’ of this particular group. It is always interesting for me to look back on the different ‘baddies,’ I have created in other novels and to a certain extent, they share similar traits. They are bullies and liars and seem not to know or care about the different between right and wrong. They are entirely self centred and destructive. In the case of Arabella, I have tried to take this even further.
There is an old maxim that you write best about what you know. When I was creating Emerald’s mother and her guardians Lady Frances and Sir Charles Mount and indeed her brother Richard and Evelyn of Lambeth I drew on people in my own life, mixing their characters like colours on a palette until I had the shades I wanted.
The same applied to the character of Lord Suckley. Although I have to admit that I have never met anyone as disgusting as him!
So we come to the character of the Queen herself. Someone asked me once if I was stuck in a lift who would I choose as a companion. I said Queen Elizabeth I because she seems to me to have been the most extraordinary woman. Passionate, cunning, hugely intelligent and above all a servant of her country. It was fun to write her dialogue because I could make her speak as I imagine she thought.
As for Sam Pemberton and Molly the bear…all I can say is yes, please!
In EMERALD, I wanted to bring a new, distinctive, fresh voice to writing historical fiction.
I do hope my readers will like it!