News article from 2000

An Interview with Rosamunde Pilcher

by Ann Bruns    August 11, 2000
Origianly found at The Book Reporter.com

Rosamunde Pilcher is a beloved author whose books have won much international acclaim, and her most recent, WINTER SOLSTICE, is one of her best yet. Bookreporter.com's Writer Ann Bruns --- who had never experienced Pilcher before --- fell in love with her novel and is now a devoted fan. Find out what inspired her retirement age romance in WINTER SOLSTICE, how she feels about the deterioration of Scottish estates, whether she will write another novel in her lifetime, and much more in this interview.

TBR: One of the most appealing aspects of your new book, WINTER SOLSTICE, lies in the characterizations, especially Elfrida Phipps and Oscar Blundell, both of whom are retirement age. Did you start out intending to write a story that would incorporate some of the more poignant difficulties of aging, or did that evolve some time later?

RP: No, I started out writing about two mature people, both of whom had come through tragic times, finding companionship and a new love with each other.

TBR: WINTER SOLSTICE encompasses so many emotional facets. The most prevalent is the loneliness that many of your characters experience, in particular those who have lost a spouse. Elfrida laments, "Perhaps that was the worst of all. Not having someone to remember things with." Is the absence of that special companionship that couples share the most painful type of loneliness? Do human beings have a need to be partnered to be truly happy?

RP: I don't think people need a partner to be truly happy. A self resourceful person can lead a full and happy life without a companion...simply friends. But for Elfrida, it was different --- and she missed her lover and wanted someone to remember good days with.

TBR: Was it their desperate need for companionship that ultimately drew Elfrida and Oscar together or would they have fallen in love under different circumstances anyway?

RP: I think Elfrida and Oscar were twin souls. Their relationship from the very beginning was one of recognized compatibility, despite the fact that he was married to Gloria.

TBR: Even though Gloria Blundell was a heavy drinker and had been drinking the night of the accident, Oscar never seems to hold her responsible for the death of their child. Wouldn't most people in that situation tend to feel just the opposite?

RP: Oscar never blamed Gloria for the accident. Simply himself, for not having the foresight to drive both wife and daughter to the firework party.

TBR: Elfrida was such a dichotomy of moralistic values. On the one hand, she'd been living with a man while he was estranged from his wife, and had encouraged her cousin Jeffrey to leave his unhappy marriage with Dodie and marry Serena, yet she abhorred the idea of a woman stealing another woman's husband. Isn't this a rather fine line of distinction?

RP: Elfrida's moral code was fairly flexible. ALL she disapproved of was the single woman, divorced or widowed, taken under the kindly wing of a good girlfriend, and then scarpering with the kindly girlfriend's husband. This was the situation in which she found herself, and she was to have no part in it.

TBR: Another central feature of WINTER SOLSTICE is the focus on family relationships --- husband/wife, mother/daugher, father/daughter, sister to sister. Dodie's daughters, Nicole and Carrie, have both suffered from a lack of nurturing, and Nicole is carrying on the tradition by treating her own daughter as an inconvenience. The implication is that Dodie's personality is the root of this dysfunctional family; Jeffrey seems to be viewed as blameless. Isn't his emotional absence in his daughters' and granddaughter's lives a contributing factor?

RP: Dodie's personality IS the root of her dysfunctional family. She is bone selfish and always has been. Jeffrey, not blameless, has nevertheless done his best, cared for his wife and children, and seen the children on their way. His wife, divorced, is well off and independent. As for him, I think he deserves a little happiness with Serena, at the end of it all.

TBR: Village life in rural England and Scotland is portrayed as one of community involvement, sharing responsibilities and caring for those in need. Even the elderly employees of the now defunct estate were watched over by local residents. In fact, one resident comments that if Oscar returned to his hometown after a 50 year absence he'd be welcome with open arms. We seldom see that kind of kindred, neighborly spirit today. Is our more mobile society impacting our sense of belonging to a community?

RP: I think in Scotland, where life jogs along at a slower pace, people do stay and live in small communities and take care of each other. All the inhabitants of Creagan would have remembered old Mrs. McLellan, the "doyenne" of the Big House, with much affection and respect. Her grandson would automatically have been welcomed back into the fold for her sake.

TBR: Elfrida and Oscar were concerned that their "living arrangements" would appear scandalous in the eyes of the local residents as well as her family, yet no one seemed the least bit offended by it, not even the minister and his wife. Was it because of their age or a reflection of more relaxed social morès?

RP: Life and moral values move on and change. Elfrida and Oscar's design for living would have been of no concern to any person provided they fit in, were friendly, and became part of the community, which they did. Oscar was also the grandson of old Mrs. McLellan, which would automatically give him carte blanche. The Minister, Peter Kennedy, is a wise man, and would be nothing but benevolent. He recognizes a truly good man when he sees one.

TBR: Despite her lack of a stable home life, Lucy appeared to be quite well-adjusted and resilient. She exhibited many personality traits of a typical teenager --- except perhaps her willingness to tackle household chores. Does this suggest that those born with a survivalist nature will endure despite the quality of parenting? Or does it require some positive influence from another source to ensure their success?

RP: Lucy is perhaps a little old-fashioned and biddable. She is not a modern, self assertive child. Such children still exist. She is simply looking for a bit of colour, companionship, and love in her rather boring life. A normality which she knows she is missing out on.

TBR: At one point, you alluded to the origins of the celebration of the Winter Solstice? Can you elaborate any on the history behind this?

RP: Winter Solstice, really nothing more to say.

TBR: Your descriptions of the deterioration of many local estates painted such a tragic picture. Are there actually a great many old estates crumbling and neglected in areas of Scotland? If so, couldn't they be put to some useful purpose while preserving them as much as possible?

RP: Yes, large estates do go downhill. Many of them were built and the land farmed and used for sport during the rich Victorian years, when labour was cheap, workmanship excellent, and a whole different sense of values existed. They could be put to some useful purpose, except that they are isolated and often situated in countryside which cannot be used for anything agricultural. That was part of their charm. It is hard to find a useful life for them, and the families who inherit them either take in paying guests, let out the shooting and fishing, or turn them into historical tours. Dubrobin, the home of the Duke of Sutherland, is typical. A historical tour, while the Lord Strathnaver lives in a converted dairy.

TBR: When you write a novel like WINTER SOLSTICE, do you begin with an outline of a story in mind, or do you create the characters and work outward as they develop?

RP: I started WINTER SOLSTICE with five characters. The story is what becomes of them.

TBR: With such a long career in writing, do you have any sage advice for budding authors out there?

RP: Budding authors, be self-disciplined. It is a lonely job. And LISTEN to experts.

TBR: What authors influenced you when you began your writing career? Who do you enjoy reading for pleasure today?

RP: I read my first Monica Dickens, called MARIANA, when I was about twelve. From her I learned a great deal about writing novels.

TBR: Will it be another 5 years before we see another Rosamunde Pilcher novel, or do you already have something cooking?

RP: I have no new book cooking. At my mature age, I shall probably not write another novel, but we shall see.