Escape to Honeysuckle Hall is out NOW. To celebrate, Rebecca Raisin gives us an insight into the protagonist of the story, Orly…
When I first started writing novels about eight years ago, I would sit down and wait for inspiration to strike. I’d have a rough idea but I’d let the characters appear and then guide me. I still do this in a way but now I make detailed outlines and then let the characters pull me along! They can be quite tricky, these fictional people, and they tend to have a mind of their own, despite my best intentions for them.
When it came to writing Orly from Escape to Honeysuckle Hall, I had a clear idea of the type of woman she’d be. Orly was a partner in a luxury concierge business in London. She was reliable, a workaholic, strong, but unhappy with her life and not sure why. She had it all: the gorgeous guy, the great job, the money, the celebrity lifestyle.
But deep down, Orly wasn’t just that person, and it took me a whole draft to figure that out too! As we got to know each other, she and I – over 90,000 words! – Orly’s character deepened. Her past came to light, her sadness at losing her dad, and how her love of stamp-collecting connected her to him. How she was afraid to stand up and say that this life she worked so hard for wasn’t right, it wasn’t how she imagined it would be. How at the end of every day, she was lonely, despite being surrounded by people.
Without quite knowing how, Orly had become the problem solver for almost everyone. She was the one who took up the slack. The one who you could always count on, but she soon realised this was never reciprocated by anyone, except her best friend Maya. By writing about Orly’s busy life, it became easier to see how the pieces of the story would puzzle together if only she could overcome these obstacles. Orly was unfulfilled and burnt out even before all the drama happened!
This gave me a lot of scope to work with and really turned Orly into a character who was ripe to develop into something more. I wanted her to be relatable. So she had to become more realistic. She might have had this fabulous life on paper but in reality she hated every moment of it, and who hasn’t felt like that? From the outside looking in, Orly had it all, but we soon see it’s not what it looks like.
Originally, first draft Orly was a lot harder. She had sharper edges, almost as if I was writing away the first impressions of her, and then digging deeper, peeling away those outer layers before I saw who she was underneath. Draft by draft, the real Orly emerged, the funny, the whimsical, the conflicted Orly. The woman who wore her heart on her sleeve and wanted to help others. Wanted to make a difference in the world, for real everyday people like you and me. But she didn’t quite know how to admit it to herself or how to act on those feelings. How to change her life in a drastic way! And whether she’d actually be brave enough to take a leap into the unknown.
The best part about editing is when your characters begin to control the narrative. They take over, and you can often ‘hear’ them in your head. This happened with Orly… I remember writing the tacos and tequila scene and laughing to myself as I wrote because this was the real Orly. Her glamorous life was imploding into a hot mess, but you could see her mettle even then. You could see she was trying to figure it out, and learning the hard way about cutting out those toxic ties that hold us all back. I wanted to high-five Orly because it felt so honest, this particular scene, and she reacts in a way that feels so raw and real with a good dose of humour thrown in because if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, right?!
The final version, the very last draft I did, I felt like we’d come full circle. Orly had spoken up, changed into the character she was always destined to be. I learned again that I might outline each and every character trait, right down to their eye colour, but as the story progresses I’m not really in charge, they are. These fictional people always surprise me by being really amazing. But my favourite part about them is that they don’t have it all together. They aren’t as strong as they like to think and are oftentimes lost just like so many of us are. I guess it’s their quirks and their flaws that I relate to best, and I know if I spend enough time writing and editing eventually I’ll flesh these people out enough that they’ll become as real to you as they are to me!
My fervent wish is that you connect with Orly and her merry band of friends! They were incredibly fun to write, especially Esterlita, who is just the tonic our overworked, world-weary Orly needs.