Guest Post: Writing from the Heart by Vic James

Hearts mean a lot to me – my family doesn’t have a great track record with them, either medically or romantically! But as a writer, hearts are indispensable. We use them literally, to convey fright, excitement, attraction. And metaphorically: broken-hearted, heart-sick, heart’s desire.

So I decided to take a look at how I use the word in GILDED CAGE, the first part of my political fantasy series, set in an alternate modern Britain. In this world, a magically skilled aristocracy rules over the rest of us, who must give 10 years of our life in service – this 1% / 99% society is unnervingly like our own.

I found I used ‘heart’ a whopping 49 times!

There’s a great maxim from E.L. Doctorow that ‘good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.’ In the same way, when I write about hearts, I want not so much to tell the reader that this character is afraid/excited/attracted, etc., but to try and help them feel the same emotions. Never an easy thing to do! But there are three of my favourite ‘heart-felt’ moments in GILDED CAGE, and you can judge!

‘Leah’s heart was pounding. He was the last one of them that she’d trust. The very last. Still, she had to take the offered chance, even if it was no more than a cat momentarily lifting its paw off a mouse’s back.’ 

This is from my opening scene. A young woman is running away from one of the aristocratic estates, but knows there is magical gate she will need to escape through. Her only hope is her baby in her arms, who may have magical ability. But then she encounters the dangerous youngest son of the family, who makes her a risky offer. Leah is overwhelmed with adrenaline and fear, but she’s also got to use her brain to think her way out of this. That’s what I wanted to convey with the three short, blunt sentences: the bam-bam-bam of her heart. Then the longer, more intricate sentence as she tries to think her way through.

‘“All Bodina thinks about right now is her heartbreak, and the next party to help her get over it.”’ 

GILDED CAGE has two central characters: everyday siblings Luke and Abi. But there are three more narrators: aristocrats Gavar, Bouda and Silyen. One of the pleasures (I hope!) of reading the book, is the way we meet characters through one person’s eyes, then later see a different side of them, or even their own thoughts. This is Bouda Matravers, an ambitious young female politician, talking about her little sister. Bouda is ruthless and hardworking, and dismissive of her sister’s lifestyle – and yet loves her dearly. In this line, her empathy at her sister’s recent breakup is undercut by her rather cool dismissal of her partying nature. Whether Bouda’s worldview is right, we find out rather later…

“The confusion in her heart was beyond her brain’s ability to solve. What problem in a textbook was more difficult than this? None.”

This is Abi, the smart, eldest child of a family beginning its ten-year service. Abi’s learning journey may be the longest and hardest of any of the characters in this trilogy – and this is where it begins. She’s fallen hard for the middle son of the family to whom she’s in service. But their differences in status and the power imbalance in their relationship are hugely problematic. This is the moment it first hits home. Abi’s emotional and logical processes are a challenge to write, because she’s simultaneously very rational (she was due to start studying medicine before her family began their service), yet she has a wide romantic and emotional streak, and the two are constantly at war. This is her trying – and failing – to apply her book-smarts to her feelings.

You may have noticed that these three examples are all female characters. Fear not! The two most intuitively emotional characters in the books are two of the guys, commoner Luke and aristocrat Gavar. They don’t find it any easier than the girls, though, to work out what their hearts are telling them – and the heart-felt journeys of all the characters are at the heart of the sequence. If you read GILDED CAGE, I hope you ❤  it!

BIO: GILDED CAGE is the first in the Dark Gifts sequence. The Guardian called it ‘impressive’ and the Daily Mail ‘dazzling’. The sequel, TARNISHED CITY, is out in September! Find Vic on twitter @DrVictoriaJames. Big thanks to Zoe for inviting me to join this fundraiser for a cause that’s very dear to my heart.

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