I’m delighted to be hosting MaryAnn Clarke in my hot seat today, chatting to us about her latest release, A Forged Affair.
Find out about her inspiration, characters, the scene she found the hardest to write and much more.
She welcomes any risk, as long as it doesn’t involve her own carefully guarded heart.
Adrenaline junkie, Niki Ballantyne is a risk-taker at work and at play. Haunted by guilt over her brother’s tragic death, she’s devoted to saving others in trouble.
While on an adventure holiday in the south of France, she meets handsome and charming traveller Luc and his shy friend, the gentle giant Didier.
Helping the bullied blacksmith win the love of another woman is not a typical rescue project for Niki, but she’s driven by compassion for her lonely new friend. Bittersweet memories of her brother’s life compel Niki to stay and support the star-crossed giant.
Their forged affair is perfectly safe.
There’s no risk of getting emotionally involved, but teaching him about intimacy comes with consequences, and lesson to be learned.
Particularly when it comes to Luc. On the cusp of a life-altering decision, Luc is drawn to daredevil Niki, though she upends his carefully laid plans for a perfect future. Despite instant chemistry and a powerful connection, Niki pushes him away.
But when a sudden emergency brings Luc to her rescue, the way he sees her vulnerability scares her more than anything. Now she has to decide if the last thing she ever wanted might be exactly what she needs.
The Forged Affair by MaryAnn Clarke is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
Hi MaryAnn, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
This particular story was born on a family holiday in the south of France – in the province of Aquitaine – exactly ten years ago.
This was a dream-come-true trip for me. I’d just finished training for and cycling the 260 km Ride to Conquer Cancer, and I was eager to cycle the country roads of France, though at that point I could ride circles around my husband and nine year old son.
I absorbed enough memories in that one month to write a dozen books!
Kayaking down the Dordogne River in France, cycling the country roads in Aquitaine, and enjoying costumed musicians at the annual Medieval festival. You can read more about my French holiday on my blog here: https://maryannclarkescott.com/travel-inspiration-for-a-forged-affair/
Please tell us about your characters.
I created Niki Ballantyne while I was in a more physically active phase of my life, hiking wooded mountain trails several times a week, and getting quite fit. The movement, the challenge and the solitude fired my imagination, and made me want to write about a character that was comfortable in her body – though perhaps not so comfortable in her mind and heart. She’s an Aphrodite archetype, a warrior and a woman who has transformative powers, is sexually active and independent, loves relationships but avoids long-term plans, and yet is irresistible to men. (Here’s a great write up of the goddess archetype: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Aphrodite-Greek-Goddess-of-Love-and-Beauty). She was the perfect model for my story as she is both heroine and catalyst for change in others.
Luc is an interesting romantic hero. Many of my male characters are more beta than alpha, more intellectual than warrior, but I really wanted to work with a calm, dependable hero that needed my heroine to wake him up, challenge him in different ways, and help him get unlodged from his safe place. At the same time, he represents a safe harbour for her restless soul In studying the whole range of hero archetypes, ‘the good guy’ is a familiar classic, yet one that has fallen out of favour. He’s a challenging hero archetype to work with – not quite an anti-hero – but a way for me of addressing the glut of overly masculinized heroes that you see a lot of in romance fiction, as well as in fantasy, historical, action/adventure and even scifi. In this age of #metoo, I feel it’s important to create positive, desireable role models for men, and for women, who go against this pattern.
What scene was the hardest to write MaryAnn?
I think when it came down to it, I found the most challenging was to write the sex scene between Niki and Didier – because it was central to the story, and their friendship and mutual exchange is a critical part of both of their development, and yet they are not the romantic pairing in the story. So it’s unusual, controversial, and maybe even dangerous for them to actually have sex. It’s a friends-with-benefits relationship that… oops spoiler. You’ll have to read the book to see how that turns out.
I had to handle it in a way that was believable and sympathetic, and enjoyable but not confusing for the reader about why they were doing it. I wanted it to be light-hearted, but not ridiculous.
I was also nervous about how this plot element would be received by readers, and I know there are still many that will balk at it. But it was important to me for another reason, and that’s because society holds up double standards about men’s and women’s sexuality. It’s always been okay, even encouraged, for young men to sow their seeds widely, and gain experience before marriage. Women on the other hand are expected to be chaste, innocent, virginal and demure. Not only is this unfair, and unrealistic, it’s also untrue to how real women live their lives. So to hold all women accountable to inhuman and unnatural behaviour for moralistic or political reasons is wrong and makes me angry. So I made myself take a stand by letting my character be a person who is very comfortable in her body, and at ease with the idea of enjoying a sexual experience without judgement. Though she still has to answer for it, she’s empowered to make that choice.
Does your book tackle a social barrier? How have you incorporated it into the story?
As I discussed in the scene about sex between friends, this story takes on the question of women’s sexuality in a kind-of modern day reverse Cyrano de Bergerac type of love triangle. And that gets complicated in its own right.
But more directly the story addresses bullying. The central character Didier is bullied, has been bullied all his life, because of his unusual size. And this handicaps him. The heroine is drawn to him, and motivated to help him, because his situation reminds her of her younger brother, who was special needs, and was also bullied, to extreme. And she bears the burden of guilt about what happened to him. So for her, subconsciously, there’s a kind of ongoing atonement. But this time, things turn around for her. This time she gets as good as she gives, if you will. She has to learn to nurture strength in others rather than just swoop in an bail them out of trouble.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie?
Sometimes I actually search for actors or public figures to help me visualize my characters before I write the story. For A Forged Affair, and for The Art of Enchantment, I did this. You can see my thought process on my Pinterest boards for each of the books (https://www.pinterest.ca/maclarkescott/a-forged-affair/). For A Forged Affair, I settled on Jake Gyllenhaal for Luc, Felicity Jones for Niki, and the giant Didier is modeled after 6′-10″ Belgian footballer (soccer player) Kristof Van Hout, though I stretched him a few more inches for the story.
Panster or plotter?
Definitely a plotter, though sometimes the story will take a detour, or a scene will unfold that I didn’t plan or expect. There’s always room for the inspiration of the moment as the first draft is being written. Sometimes I know what needs to happen, but not how, and that unfolds one sentence at a time. But I always know where I’m going. I really enjoy thinking about story structure and plotting stories, working out the problems. For me it’s about understanding my characters, where they are at the start, and where I need to get them to.
Have you joined any writing groups MaryAnn?
I’ve been part of a couple of long-standing critique groups through the fourteen years that I’ve been writing fiction. Through them I grew as a writer and made life long friends that I still know and see at conferences and such. Currently I belong to the Greater Vancouver Writers Association – Romance and Beyond, the Vancouver Island Writers Association, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. But the group I am most active with is called The Creative Academy (https://ccscreativeacademy.com/) This group, run by three coach-mentors, is a very tight, supportive community that provides all the feedback, education, technical help and writerly bonding I could ever want. This group of writers actually meets online virtually (in both senses) every day for writing sprints, office hours on all topics, accountability and motivation and social networking.
Finally, if your book is part of a series, what is in the future?
The Life is a Journey series was born out of actual vacations abroad, and of my love of travel and culture in general. So The Art of Enchantment, A Forged Affair, and an as yet unpublished manuscript with the unwieldy working title A Dissimulation of Doves were all inspired by trips I’ve done.
Now that there is a series, of course I have to do more research. I have rough ideas for stories set in places I have been but need more information about, including Sitges, Spain, Bruges, Belgium, and Utrecht in the Netherlands, because it’s a very cool college town. I’ve also chosen a lovely fishing village in Ireland that I have to go to, called Kinsale, that brings together a sailing regatta and an arts festival week that have already stimulated my story juices. Those that have read my novels will know that I have an interest in art and in sailing as well.
Thank you for being my guest today. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
M. A. Clarke Scott is a Chatelaine Grand Prize winner for The Art of Enchantment, first in the Life is a Journey series of romantic women’s fiction about young women abroad who discover themselves and fall in love while getting embroiled in other people’s problems. Reconcilable Differences is first in the Having It All series about professional women in Vancouver struggling to balance the challenge and fulfillment of career with the search for identity, love, family and home. She also loves to weave dramatic relationships into steampunk and cyberpunk adventures.
She’s been an architect, a gerontologist, a telephone operator, a dental hygienist, and an education savings advisor. When not writing, she meditates while hiking wooded mountain trails, does yoga and Pilates to fend off decrepitude, reads eclectically, contemplates wormholes, experiments with painting abstract expressionism, kills plants and tries not to burn dinner. Clarke Scott lives on beautiful Vancouver Island, Canada with her husband and a few small mammals. Although she knows she lives in Paradise, she still loves traveling the world in search of romance, art, good food and new story ideas.
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