Colours of Snow
to the Pipers
(US) Vanity and Vexation
THE COLOURS OF SNOW
sunniest, most upbeat of novels
A racy, entertaining read which turns
the traditional romantic cliché on its head
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.
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
'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
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
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
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
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
night, he insisted on exercising his strutting droit de seigneur
over the weary ladies of his harem. This was perhaps not the
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
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?