I’m delighted to be hosting Sue Barnard in my hot seat as she tours with Heathcliff.
Sue is chatting to us today about her research, inspiration and how her protagonist surprised her.
It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”
Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.
Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.
But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?
For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered.
Heathcliff by Sue Barnard is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
Purchase Link : mybook.to/heathcliff
Hi Sue, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Heathcliff in 20 words or less.
What might have happened to Wuthering Heights’ famous anti-hero during the three years when he disappeared from the original story?
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
Ever since my mid-teens, when I studied Wuthering Heights for O-Level (as it then was), I’ve been intrigued by the mystery surrounding Heathcliff’s disappearance – one of literature’s greatest unanswered questions. But the idea for writing the book was triggered a couple of years ago, by a chance remark from a former classmate.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
If you’ve read Wuthering Heights you’ll already be familiar with some of them: Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar, Isabella, Nelly, Hareton, and young Cathy – so they need no introduction.
Other characters have been created for this story, and Heathcliff meets them when he arrives in Liverpool after fleeing from Yorkshire: Mary O’Keefe (a tavern proprietor, originally from Ireland), William McDougal (a businessman, originally from Scotland), Matthew Trelawney (a fisherman and sailor, originally from Cornwall), and John Burgess (a local farmer). All of these characters play a significant role in Heathcliff’s life, but you’ll need to read the book to find out how!
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you Sue?
Yes – his age. Having become used to seeing Heathcliff portrayed on screen by actors who are in their twenties or thirties (or in some cases even older than that), I was amazed to discover how young he is. In the original story he’s only 16 or 17 when he runs away, and only 19 or 20 when he returns.
Did you do any research for your book? What resources did you use?
The dates in Wuthering Heights are very precise (Heathcliff runs away in 1780 and returns in 1783), so I had to make sure that what happened to him during those missing years was historically accurate. My original idea was that he would have spent those years as a pirate, which would have been very much in keeping with his character, but I quickly discovered that the golden age of piracy was several decades too early. Then I wondered if he might have made his fortune in the American or Australian goldrush, but the goldrush years were not until the mid-1800s. Eventually I did find something which fitted with the timeframe, but it would give too much away to reveal that here.
My primary research tool was the internet, but I also consulted books and visited museums dedicated to the subjects concerned.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie Sue?
That’s a tricky one, because of the age issue I mentioned above – I can’t immediately think of any actors who would be young enough. So leaving that question aside, I think Heathcliff himself would be Richard Armitage, with Catherine played by Lily James. The enigmatic William McDougal would be David Tennant, and Mary O’Keefe would be played by the incomparable Olivia Coleman. And after seeing the wonderful film Fisherman’s Friends, I’d be thrilled to see Matthew Trelawney portrayed by James Purefoy.
Finally, do you have a favourite book? What is it that you’re drawn to?
I have lots of favourites – too many to list here! – but I’d like to mention just two which have made a huge impact on me.
The first one is That Devil Called Love, by Lynda Chater. This is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, told with great perception and humour, in which the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don’t necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness. I first read it when I was in my mid-forties and starting to feel depressed about growing old, and I can honestly say that it changed my whole outlook on life. And it’s such an ingenious concept that I’ve often wished I’d thought of the idea myself.
The second one is Our Town by Thornton Wilder. I know it’s a play rather than a book, but it contains one of the most powerful messages in any work of literature: Life is precious, and every moment should be treasured.
Thank you for being my guest Sue. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.
Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
Sue’s first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet), was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014. Since then she has produced five more novels: Nice Girls Don’t (2014), The Unkindest Cut of All (2015), Never on Saturday (2017), Heathcliff (2018), and Finding Nina (2019).
Sue now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.
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