Kate Fenton

 

Books
The Colours of Snow
Dancing to the Pipers
Lions & Liquorice/
(US) Vanity and Vexation

Balancing on Air
Too Many Godmothers
Picking Up

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THE COLOURS OF SNOW

THE COLOURS OF SNOWThe sunniest, most upbeat of novels
Guardian
A racy, entertaining read which turns the traditional romantic cliché on its head
Options
Charming and psychologically acute
New York Daily News

Frankie Cleverdon is handsome, clever and even - for once in her life - quite rich. She has two lovers, a smart flat in London, and is making a name for herself as a painter of witty murals on fashionable walls. But she's left it all behind to hole up in a remote cottage in the North Yorkshire Moors. Why? Because she wants to find out if she can still paint decent pictures.

The beautiful scenery, however, only inspires her to devour chocolate and cheap thrillers until she finds herself sketching the bear-like figure fishing in the river below her window. Bashful and stammering, old-fashioned and disconcertingly high-minded, Ned represents everything which does not attract Frankie in a man - and she falls promptly and violently in love.

Plotting a delicious little affair to warm this frozen landscape, she is at first frustrated and then frightened. The bizarre behaviour of her neighbours in the valley, which once amused her, becomes increasingly alarming and her planned idyll threatens to turn into a nightmare.


Excerpts
 

footnote: GETTING STARTED

The Colours of Snow was my first proper novel - by which I don't mean 'proper' as opposed to 'improper'. No indeed. My baby sister made that clear when she phoned me after reading her presentation copy.

'Look here, Kathryn,' she said, (always a bad sign that: Kathryn) 'Page 172 - gleaming penis? We don't want that sort of thing in the family, thank you very much.' This from a girl who's been devouring orgy-every-ten-pages shlockbusters since she was in the Brownies.

Besides, as I indignantly pointed out, there was only the one sex scene in my little oeuvre which was both pertinent to the plot and, I flattered myself, handled with the utmost taste and discretion. Moreover, it featured only the regulation pair of heterosexual, consenting adults, with no goldfish, manacles or cream-cakes - and that was more than I could say for her favoured writers. 'Jackie Collins isn't my sister,' she retorted unanswerably.

Be that as it may, by 'proper' what I actually meant was that this was the first novel I was prepared to see published under my own name. I'd first got into print, under a pen-name I would rather not disclose, with a romantic serial for a magazine. This came about because my mother, after a visit to the dentist, told me that Woman's Weekly - famed for its fiction, fruitcakes and fair-isle - was running a competition for would-be romantic novelists. I was, of course, a would-be Booker Prize novelist - nay, a Pulitzer, Nobel Prize-winning novelist. However, since quitting the BBC and moving up to Yorkshire to pen my masterpiece, I'd spent the thick end of a year gazing alternately at the blank page in my typewriter (this was so long ago computers were still the province of anoraked nuclear physicists), and out of the window at a cockerel in the neighbouring henfield, wondering whether sisterly solidarity demanded I march out and throttle the randy little bastard as, morning, noon and night, he insisted on exercising his strutting droit de seigneur over the weary ladies of his harem. This was perhaps not the time to cling to the literary high ground. So I visited the doc's in order to study the form of Woman's Weekly's famous fiction. It didn't need a genius to discern a certain pattern.

Take one all-purpose girl-next-door - not the best-looker on the block, but a bright and plucky lass. Virgin - well, virgin-ish. On page 3, unleash across her innocent path your hero who is, one need hardly say, tall, dark and handsome. Also rich, worldly and world-weary, with an enigmatic glint in those steel grey eyes. The brute. She hates him, of course. She hates him for 199 pages and then on page 200, Dear Reader, she marries him.

Well, at least it got me going. I had a pattern, a length and a six-episode shape to work to - and work I did. I might sound as though I'm sneering at traditional romantic fiction, but I'm not. It was bloody hard work writing that serial, and one thing I learned was that - just like the how-to-write manuals insist - you can't be a smart Alec and knock off this kind of tale with gin in hand and tongue in cheek. At least, not if you want anyone to read it. The reader has to identify with your heroine, and that will only happen if you do. You have to write, in other words, from the heart. I did my best. And I'm deeply grateful to Woman's Weekly, because they gave me first prize of a handsome desk, a snazzy new typewriter and - best of all - publication. I promptly wrote a second serial while on the winning streak. That was even harder work. By the time I began to contemplate Number Three, I had serious Writer's Block.

The problem was identifying with my heroine. Your average likeable girl next door - fine. No beauty queen - a girl after my own heart. But she's supposed to have some kind of brain, right? And I tell you, if this tall, dark, handsome tycoon strode into my mundane life on page 3, I would not be inclined to hate him for 198 pages. Au contraire, I'd be strongly inclined to fling myself into his masterful arms on page 4, and where's your story then?

Besides I still had Literary Ambitions. Bet your life. In between hammering out these money-earning episodes, I'd been labouring over my First Novel. It was called The Ladies' Academy - good title, eh? Shame about the plot. First novels are famously supposed to consist of the fledgling writer pouring out ('sicking up' was the expression a friend of mine used) the entire contents of their life to date. But my own life seemed so dispiritingly lacking in narrative promise, I didn't bother with any of that. Instead, with a story involving - let me think - a world-conquering rock band, aristocratic prostitutes, satanic rituals and D-I-Y artificial insemination, you could say I went a bit too far the other way. The book was simultaneously a searing indictment of modern society, a traditional whodunit and a comedy of manners. With a touch of Denis Wheatley. Even I realized I might not quite have got the hang of this writing lark yet. But I wasn't deterred, oh my word, no. I was soon hammering out my second First Novel. And my Third.

What was driving me on, with ever-increasing desperation, was the Betty Trask Award. Ever heard of this? An eccentric elderly lady, who had herself published a few love stories in her day, died back in the 1980's, leaving a whacking sum of money to fund a prize for a first novel 'of a romantic or traditional nature'. Remarkably, this novel didn't have to be published, but the writer did have to be under the age of 35. From my former day job on a books programme at Radio 4, I'd learned that entries to this competition were (amazingly) quite often sparse and had been determined ever since to get an entry in. But my 35th birthday was looming, and I still hadn't produced a submittable manuscript.

The closing date for my last chance was 31 January 1989. The preceding August, I'd chucked out 200-plus pages of my second attempt in despair. By mid-December, it was becoming clear to me that First Novel No 3 might be even worse. Number Two had been so intricately pre-planned and plotted it had strangled itself to death. Mindful of that, I'd plunged into the next freehand, no map, no compass. It began with a contemporary female painter strolling under an oak tree and meeting Robin Hood. Ho hum. After which, with me typing like a machine-gun on amphetamines, it galloped willy-nilly through three time zones - the present day, Medieval England and some non-specific post-nuclear catastrophe future - before reaching a point where I realized no-one would understand a word of this nonsense, because I certainly didn't.

That Christmas was not very merry, and the New Year hangover even more poisonous than usual. I was facing utter, abject failure. There must be some boy-stood-on-the-burning-deck gene in my DNA, however, some pre-programmed compulsion to stick at it when anyone with an ounce of common sense would have scarpered. Because, on Jan 9th, I said to myself that, come hell or high water, I was going to get an entry into that competition, I was going to write a bloody novel. That evening, I bashed out a sketch plot on two sides of A4. To my enduring regret, I later threw it out, because I'd give anything now to know what it said.

On Jan 10th, I started writing. And wrote The Colours of Snow in 19 days flat - twice through, mark you. Fortunately, I'd graduated to a computer by then, an Amstrad. The first draft took nine days, working from seven in the morning until whisky time. It was tumbling out so fast, quite a lot of it wasn't even in English, let alone spelled or punctuated - the story just exploded like a damburst. I half-wondered if I was going clinically bonkers. There was a hoary tale when I was at Oxford of a brilliant student sitting his finals, with the whole world including himself anticipating a starry first. He emerged from the first exam blithely whistling, convinced he'd written the paper of his life. It turned out all he'd actually done was spend three solid hours writing his name, over and over again. The pressure had just pushed him over the edge. I did seriously suspect I might be pulling the same stunt. But when, on the tenth day, I went back and read through the (illiterate) draft, I was amazed. I honestly didn't recognize a lot of what I was reading - I even laughed at some of the jokes - but I knew it worked. It was alive. People talk about writers finding their voice. It seemed I'd blundered across mine.

As for the story, well, you could be forgiven for detecting the inversion of a certain familiar pattern here. Tall, dark handsome, rich, sophisticated heroine - bashful, blushing chap-next-door? She claps lustful eyes on him, pursues him shamelessly for however many pages and… but I won't give away the ending. Considering the speed at which it was written, I don't even know if I was aware that the artist heroine, Frankie, was roped-in from one of the earlier failed novels, and Ned from another. Matter of fact, he'd been painfully miscast as a murderer in the Ladies Academy, and was much happier here. There was no time for research, of course, nor even imaginative meanderings, so the setting was lifted directly from the oft-studied view outside my window. Minus hens. But anyone who knows the area will recognize the river, the valley - even the Wheatsheaf Inn at the top of the hill, run then by our friends Albert and Sue, and heavily disguised in the pub as the Wheatsheaf Inn, proprietors Albert and Sue.

I'd like to say the Betty Trask judges were dazzled. They resoundingly weren't. The manuscript thumped back having got nowhere, but who cared? Jenny Dereham, editorial director of Michael Joseph, had read it, liked it and I was away. More than away. I was high as a kite, giddy as a goat, euphoric. I'd clearly got the writing business mastered, and nonchalantly pencilled three weeks into the diary in the Autumn to knock off novel Number Two. Two sweated years later, I managed to finish it. But that, you might say, is another story.

One last word. Just a shade dispiritingly, with five further books down the line, my husband continues to insist that The Colours of Snow is his all time favourite. Ever feel your career is going nowhere fast?