By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
How many of us have finished a novel and held the book close to our heart with the certain knowledge we must keep it forever? Even if our bookshelf becomes bowed to the point of breaking from the weight of these treasured books, we cannot part with them.
Well, the other day, I was organizing my bedroom walk-in closet (no small task) and, in particular, some shelves with keeper books. Primarily, the ones on these shelves are paperbacks. The hardcover books are usually placed in my writing loft on stronger shelves. Some of the books are autographed, but all of them are books I read, loved and wanted to preserve in a special place of honor. A great majority are romance novels. The settings vary although most take place in the Regency period. Other time periods I love to read include Medieval, Georgian, Colonial America, Westerns, and Victorian. No doubt about it, I have always loved historical fiction and being transported back in time. But as I looked at these books, it got me to thinking about the authors who earned a hallowed spot on my 'keeper shelf'; the ones whose works I keep returning to, like a thirsty traveler making a pilgrimage to a sacred well.
Ask anyone who loves to read, and they will tell you the names of their favorite authors. And if that reader is also a writer, it’s quite possible that one (or more) of their favorite authors also inspired them to become a writer and perhaps influenced their writing style.
I can also remember the day I got my first ‘grown up’ book. It was my 12th birthday, and my mother gifted me with a special hardcover volume of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I read that book over and over again. In fact, I loved the book so much that a few years later my mom introduced me to the 1939 classic film version in a way I would never forget. For anyone who has seen this film, perhaps on Turner Classic Movies, it starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. However, long before there was a TCM, my mom surprised me with a mother-daughter day, just the two of us. Instead of going to the museum (which she knew I loved to do), or perhaps a concert with nothing but pipers from the Highlands of Scotland (which she also knew I adored), we went to a special screening of Rebecca in Saratoga Springs, New York. And after the film ended, none other than Miss Joan Fontaine walked out on stage to be interviewed and talk with the audience about the making of the film. I was beyond thrilled.
At the time Rebecca was being filmed, Gone with the Wind was also being filmed. For those who do not know, Miss Fontaine’s sister is actress Olivia de Havilland, who portrayed Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Well, Miss Fontaine stated that one night as the two sisters had dinner with their mother, they shared what happened on set during their respective day of filming. Ironically, the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind was filmed the very same day that Manderley had been set aflame in Rebecca. Interesting, no? I can well imagine the number of firemen on both sets that day to make sure those raging infernos we saw on film were very controlled.
In any event, without question Daphne du Maurier has long remained one of my favorite authors, and she has influenced me as a writer, too.
Needless to say, I cannot adequately describe the emotional impact I had upon learning my first novel, The Sense of Honor, a gothic historical romantic suspense set in Regency England, had been honored with the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Mystery and Suspense.
As I looked over the names of authors I love and whose books I always keep, certain names bring a smile to my lips.
For example, virtually anything by Johanna Lindsey is a keeper.
Lindsey's Malory family series to this day remains my absolute favorite collection of romance novels. She got me so invested emotionally in that family, I looked forward to reading what Malory the next book would be about. She also gave her readers the opportunity to reconnect with characters from earlier works.
Another writer whose work I adore and who (I feel) has influenced me greatly as a writer is Miss Jane Austen. When you think upon the fact that Pride and Prejudice (my favorite Austen novel) is this year celebrating its 200th birthday and that its popularity continues to grow all over the world, the woman was amazing.
But if I were to name the one writer whose works I have cherished and collected in hardcover print since childhood, and whose flair with gothic historical romances greatly influenced me as a reader and writer of historical romance, it would have to be Victoria Holt.
Literary talent aside, perhaps I love Victoria Holt so much for sentimental reasons. After reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt stepped in (also introduced by my mom) and not only bridged my childhood to adulthood transition as a reader with all her books, but truly became my dearest literary companion.
Whether it was on a rainy day reading in my room, or a cold, winter night seated by the fireplace, one of her books was often with me. I especially remember packing Holt titles for long summer vacations at either Hampton Beach, New Hampshire or Ocean City, Maryland. As music blared from nearby portable radios and everyone frolicked in the surf, I was enthralled by the pages of my book, transported far away to England where storm clouds gathered and waves crashed against razor-sharp cliffs. And at the top of those cliffs stood a beautiful estate where the young governess (who could have been me), was being terrorized by some gothic mystery I could not yet glean.
Captivated by the romance, passion, and suspense of Victoria Holt’s novels, I was surprised years later when, as an adult, I re-read them only to discover the hero and heroine had never shared anything more intimate on the pages than an embrace or kiss. The romance and passion had been deftly orchestrated through Holt’s finesse with characterization, subtle nuances, and sexual tension. Written from the heroine’s point of view, I felt her uncertainty as she tried to discern not only her feelings for the hero, but her confusion about how he felt toward her. Titles such as Mistress of Mellyn, Bride of Pendorric, The Shivering Sands, Lord of the Far Island and so many others not only take me back to that innocent young girl of my youth, with a rather idealistic view of romance, but the gothic Victorian world that had been opened to me by Victoria Holt.
Born Eleanor Alice Burford in England on 1 September 1906 (which also makes her a Virgo like me. :-D), in her early twenties, she married George Percival Hibbert. In addition to writing gothic romance novels as Victoria Holt, Ms. Hibbert also used the pseudonyms of Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, Eleanor Burford, Kathleen Kellow, Anne Percival, Elbur Ford, and Ellalice Tate. Influenced by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and George Eliot, her first novel, Daughter of Anna, was published in 1941 under the name of Eleanor Burford. Twenty years later, she has 32 novels published as Eleanor Burford.
The pseudonym of Jean Plaidy was used for her historical novels such as The Mary Stuart, Queen of Scot Series, The Stuart Saga, The Tudor Series, and The Catherine De Medici Trilogy. It is interesting to note that all her Plaidy novels were recognized for their historical accuracy and detail, as well as her writing. In addition, her Lucrezia Borgia Series published under Jean Plaidy was the first work to portray Lucrezia as a “pawn and victim of her family’s political machinations”.
However, the books I love and treasure most are the 33 gothic romances she penned from 1960 through 1993 as Victoria Holt. Beginning with Mistress of Mellyn and ending with The Black Opal (published after her death in 1993), I must admit all her Holt titles captivated me as a reader and have inspired the elements of mystery and suspense, as well as gothic influences, that I love to create in my books.
Is there one author in particular who has your undying loyalty? An author who perhaps introduced you to a genre of literature that has become your favorite? If so, tell me who and why. I would love to know.
Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Reading! ~ AKB
Note: All photos used are either public domain, purchased stock photos, or my own personal photos.