There is a great bit at the end of Paddington where Mrs Brown realizes that her cartoon hero – whom she has been struggling to picture – is actually her husband, and in her mind fills in the empty illustration with his face. True, he is dangling off the Natural History Museum trying to save a bear’s life, so it’s not a normal situation, but the idea of finding inspiration for heroes is the same. Some spring into being of their own accord; others need you to look a little harder, and some pop up where you really wouldn’t expect to find them.
Physical inspiration in romance often centres around the trinity of tall, dark and handsome. The hero of My Lady Governess, Tam de Waare, is a case in point: he’s tall and dark and very handsome when he actually smiles. Behold this illustrated by the lovely Laurence Olivier, who captures the type exactly:
Tam's close friend, Jack Darenth, is also all three, although I had fun playing with what happens when handsome gets out of control and women sob as they did over Valentino. Sadly I have not seen a man who captures Jack, although the actor Santiago Cabrera as Aramis comes closest. Here he is! Not that convincing as a Regency Englishman, but drop-dead gorgeous all the same.
However, not all men have the trinity, which is great because it would get rather boring if they did - although bear in mind that Jack and Tam met in the Life Guards, where a man had to be over five feet eleven. Where heroes have been in the cavalry, tallness is standard; how my much shorter hero Sandy Macfarlane got in is a testament to strings being pulled and his total stubbornness. In contrast to his friends, Sandy is a type found all over Scotland: five feet seven, slight, fair, and when he chooses, very intimidating. Living so long in Scotland, marrying a Scot, it’s not surprising I brought him into being.
Others are odder. Much as I like a very tall man, Stephen Darenth’s physical inspiration was a man I met years ago at a party. He was six feet five with shoulders to die for. He was an utter misery guts, and it really makes me happy that I turned someone so joyless into someone so much better. Would Mr Joyless be pleased he inspired a deranged genius? Ha ha, probably not! I have other heroes in production at the moment, most of them weaving into others’ stories, and their inspirations span years. One of them, a black-browed, green-eyed redhead, is based on the cousin of my best friend at school. One is every English cricketer on our village greens at the weekend. Another looks like a man I work with. Which I will not be telling anyone at my work, just in case they get the wrong idea.
“But don’t you just use your husband for inspiration?” someone asked me recently, to get a lot of choking before no, no, no! as if this was the strangest idea ever, which is also why I’m not telling man at work he is the model for my hero. Inspiration has its limits. He just happens to have a set of physical characteristics perfect for the role, no more, and it would be hideously embarrassing in a very British way to have anyone think differently . My husband, in total contrast, is my hero. I don’t want to turn him into a character who falls in love with someone else because I love him. Because he’s my hero. I’m not going to share him.
So this is why, wherever my inspiration and however different my heroes, you will never get a six feet three, dark, handsome Scotsman as the hero from me. I am too selfish. I am no Mrs Brown.