Bella Bryce's latest blog posts
Yes, this is a photo of the real Bella.
I always have been. Rather, Alice is me. I was here long before Alice came along, although I think she's always been lurking around the corners of my imagination somewhere. She used to look different, though. This character was more like 'Samantha', from the book I started writing when I was thirteen, called 'Sam's Silence.' Samantha was rough around the edges, had a lot of attitude, anger, and not a great deal of depth. I find myself feeling like Alice is the more sophisticated, developed version. Either way, Alice is me. I am Alice.
As I come to the end of the series in 'Unfailing Love', and because of the challenges I've encountered trying to get there, I wanted to unpack some of the reality behind the series. Most of it begins and ends with Alice. As the author, and as one who based the main character from myself, the most truth in the series revolves around her.
On my About page, I state, 'I always include personal circumstances and memories in my writing, but those that are fact from fiction shall remain undisclosed.' There is so much in my writing that falls in the category of personal circumstance, and so much more in the future will, too. However, the Waldorf Manor will always be close to my heart - it will always be my favourite - no matter how many other books I write. I’m not afraid to be raw, and I’m not ashamed of the circumstances that have given me inspiration. Not anymore.
Be forewarned, if you don’t like reading blog posts that last longer than thirty seconds of concentration, or that catapult you into the stark reality of another person’s life, perhaps you should pause. Some people don’t want to know that I bleed, or have sorrow, or that I grocery shop. Well, I do. I feel compelled to reflect on the Waldorf Manor series with painstaking honesty, because of all that readers have invested in their sharing of emails, fan post, messages, their purchases - why shouldn’t you know about the inspiration? Here is my truth behind Waldorf Manor.
When the series opens with ‘The Solicitation’, we meet Alice making a cup of tea on the morning of her interview with Brayden. She has a short, but very genuine interaction, with another candidate (Annie) and believe it or not, I didn’t even know when I was writing the scene, that Alice was going to be the main character. I didn’t know Brayden would choose her. I thought he was going to choose Elisabeth. When it came to the part where Brayden looked at the photos of the four remaining girls for consideration, I contemplated a story where he invited all of them to live at Waldorf. As the scene built momentum, I kept finding excuses for each girl to bow out, which is revealed by how each of them respond to the penultimate question Brayden asks, about how their families would react if they weren't to return home for Christmas. I can’t explain the urgency with which I felt Alice begging to tell her story. She wanted to live at Waldorf. Hence, I wrote each girl’s reaction as a means to excuse herself from consideration, leaving only her to remain in his study. The line that made me realise I had my main character was, “I have nothing to contend, Sir. May I stay?”
That was when realisation hit: I’m Alice. I’m the girl who has a story to tell. I’m the girl who wants to be chosen. More than anything, I want to be the girl invited to live at Waldorf. I didn’t even know what was going to happen in the story, but I know I was her and I wanted to be there. Immediately, this perspective was built. Who is Alice? Why does she have nothing to contend? Besides the menial response to Brayden, ‘my Mum wouldn’t be sober enough to notice,’ I really had no idea who Alice was going to be or where she came from. Suddenly, as the author, Brayden's choosing her meant that I chose her too. Both Brayden and I had to acquaint ourselves with Alice, although, I felt the greater responsibility lie with me. How could Brayden take care of the girl without the information required in order to understand her? When needing to develop Alice's upbringing and history, I looked no further than my own. My mother used to drink. She was never an alcoholic. Seventeen was the age I left ‘home’, to live with family friends. Seventeen is the age we find Alice at the beginning of the story. She turns eighteen the next day. Chapter Five reveals an incident which leads to the first real upset we learn of her situation, which is where her mother attacks her and leaves her outside in the middle of winter without a coat. That happened to me. Except, in the real version, I also wasn't wearing shoes because I was locked out before I could put them on. It was snowing and icey and I was only wearing socks. I was also wearing trousers at the time, if anyone can believe that. That circumstance was also why I left home at seventeen. I told myself I would never tell readers that this part of the story was real, or that it happened to me. In fact, my Mum knows I put it in my book because she is now reading the series. That was ten years ago, but the matter was only recently dealt with. When I say dealt with, I mean in the way you as the reader understands by Brayden's definition what 'dealt with' properly is - tears, apology, forgiveness. The slate is completely wiped clear, and I hold nothing against my Mum. I didn’t write Sally Oliver's character into the story to hurt my Mum, either. Quite the contrary; I was desperate for a bit of reality. I warned her before reading ‘The Solicitation’, that a certain incident was in the story, and then reminded her that we moved on. I harbour absolutely no ill feelings toward her any longer on that matter (or any matter). It made sense to me to use what I knew, to build my story. I’m glad something I experienced could be utilised in my book to illustrate the beginning of Alice’s healing process. At least some good came of the situation, even if only in a fictional world.
As the focus on Alice’s mother virtually disappears, it transfers with the same attentiveness to Brayden and his relationship with her. The biggest truth I will share with my audience is this: 'The Solicitation' was written out of my greatest pain - fatherlessness. That doesn't mean I never had a man standing in my life with that title, it means that even if he was standing there, I was still fatherless. Sharing that feels like I’m on the world’s stage having open-heart surgery, where you see my feelings and the workings of my insides for yourself. The lacking of a father like Brayden, nearly ripped me apart. For various reasons, I will not comment in depth about that role in my life, except for the commonality in the story with Alice’s biological father leaving right after she was born. My biological father was a drug dealer and user, and threatened both my Mum and my life repeatedly until I was about two years old. My Mum did what she had to do to protect us, so we left. She remarried when I was four. I searched for my biological father when I was old enough, and met him ‘properly’ when I was 19 years old. It started with a hug, but it ended in my heart being broken. He didn't want me. My greatest pain in the area of fatherlessness comes from a variety of situations, comments and specific incidents which left me feeling completely worthless and incapable of being loved. Especially, by men. I will not comment further on particular reasons what males have in relation to the story, because there are family members who give me no credibility. I know what I experienced, and regardless of whether other people feel they were adequately fathered, I was not. However, this series doesn’t quite concentrate on Alice’s fatherlessness - it begins by exposing her brokenness. We watch her cautiously adjust to a lifestyle that is so far beyond a girl from her background. In England, we would call Brayden, Waldorf and the Fowlers, ‘those posh people in their stately homes’, blah blah blah. The typical jealous talk. Many people unfamiliar with wealth or privilege (in my experience) act as though people like Brayden or the Fowlers have somehow been given a stake in something much greater than the rest of the county, or country. As if they are sub-human. Overly educated and ridiculous manners. I make a point to show the reader that if you waltz into the story with those judgements, you are no better for it. Look at your own heart and ask yourself why it bothers you so much. This isn’t an attack - it’s a challenge :) Some readers won’t mind the culture of Waldorf, whilst others claim it is Victorian and stiff. Not at all. Rules and discipline are necessary strongholds. They are good things, when done properly. It’s good to be corrected, so that we can be better. It’s good to have wisdom spoken over us, so that we learn and improve. Alice repeatedly finds herself corrected for things which ‘’most people’’ probably don’t care about (anymore). I’m passionate about many of the things Brayden is passionate about - although that should probably read the other way around.
In ‘The Shortlist’, the story’s focus moves to a refreshing look at the relationships outside of Waldorf, and on my absolute favourite character, Bennett Fowler. I’ve loved Bennett from the first moment I wrote him into the story. He was originally supposed to wear thick-rimmed stylish spectacles and be a bit more quiet, but that just didn’t happen. Straightaway, Bennett wanted to make his own statement. I tried to write his dialogue and it didn’t work. Bennett didn’t want glasses, and he wanted to show just how very strict he was straight from his first few lines. What’s an author to do? You run with it, that’s what you bloody do. I’m just the intermediary. My characters have loud and clear voices - they don’t need me trying to elude to any nuances. I often feel helpless in writing, too. I sit down and my fingers type the words that are flowing through my mind like a tap that is never turned off. It isn’t my voice, though. My characters are very, very confident. They already know who they are and what they want to say. I just show up to record it. Many of the decisions that take the story in a certain direction have nothing to do with me - I feel. I never intended for much of the series to happen the way it did. I never intended to write a series. I was going to leave it at ‘The Solicitation’ . . . she says, five books later . . .
The relationship between Bennett and Elisabeth reminds me of my early courting to my husband in 2008, when we were 22 and 23. My husband had a lot of the same personality at Bennett. Back then, he was very regimented and followed a lot of ‘rules’ he made for himself with regards to how he looked, how he performed at work or in his studies, and that was incredibly attractive to me. It was much like the spark that ignites inside Elisabeth when she experiences Bennett at full strength. And, much like their relationship escalating very quickly, so did mine. My husband bought an engagement ring after we spent two days spent together (and he paid for my hotel when I was staying in the area - that has Bennett written all over it), with our first date being in Paris. We kept separate residences during our courtship and there was discipline, and we didn’t do more than kiss until we were married. Book II definitely was inspired by the only kind of pre-marital lifestyle I knew, but that book also took on its own path in the series.
‘The Courting’ isn’t shrouded by a lot of my personal experience, but that’s also because my identity lay mainly with Alice, not Elisabeth. Alice’s roles in books II and III is a lot more watered down. Although, I will admit that Alice’s behaviour in ‘The Shortlist’ toward Elisabeth is of course, horrendous, but not entirely shocking to me. Jealously is a terrible disease and I have (many years ago) experienced it on the level which Alice experienced when faced with the reality of sharing her father, her uncles and new family, with Elisabeth. My sister. I was six when she was born. I remember being both jealous and terrified of her. The emotions Alice’s encounters which lead up to their wrestling match is the physical reaction akin to how my inner-feelings played out through most of my childhood. We never attacked each other like that, but somewhere in my heart I attacked her. All of that anger which Alice demonstrates, comes from a real place in my past. Brayden’s consistent lectures about jealousy, about loving Elisabeth and the requirement to behave polite and graciously toward her, are all things I believe wholeheartedly. Humorously, it seemed like the Brayden part of me was lecturing the Alice part of me throughout those moments of the story. ‘The Courting’ also expresses many of the feelings I had during my own courtship, many of the discoveries, the heart fluttering and sleepless nights of smiling in the dark because of this treasure Bennett and Elisabeth found within each other. Although, the similarities between myself and books II and III get smaller because the focus isn’t on Alice as much as it was in book I, which is understandable - not everything is about me. Or Alice. But this is her series. ‘The Courting’ also explores more of Brayden’s past. As I said, I never intended to write past book I, so all of a sudden, I needed to tell more of his background. I used a conversation between Bennett and Alice during a game of chess to reveal the reality of what happened to Brayden’s parents. Until that point, the reader knows only that they died. They didn’t know the James’ had been murdered. Shortly after, Bennett and Brayden have a very abrupt conversation about the propriety of Alice being made aware of the murder. There are several inner monologues that take the reader deep into Brayden’s grief, and that despite his manner, he is still grieving. One doesn’t notice because he is too busy with fatherhood and sorting through his emotions with regards to Anabelle Greyson. This book introduces the idea that Brayden could fall in love - which was the furthest thing from my agenda - I assure you! The man wanted to fall in love. I couldn’t deny him that. His inner-monologues about Ana and the mere idea of admitting he likes her, has strong implications. I felt a lot of his apprehension came from me, the author, working through my own uncertainty about whether or not I liked the idea of him falling in love, and Alice having a mother. Or Alice needing a mother. At this time in my real life, my Mum and I were working toward a place of true reconciliation. We were rebuilding our relationship. The idea of Anabelle being immediately accepting of Alice at her chronological age and not questioning her ten year old stature was an ideal I had of my own mother accounting for the rejection I felt from her all of my life. It wasn’t strictly because of my experience that it was decided Ana could have a place in Brayden’s life, but there was definitely a connection there for me.
‘The Glass House’ was my favourite book, until ‘Unfailing Love.’ Book IV exploded with Brayden’s annoying reservation to pursue Anabelle. Believe me, once I saw how they interacted and how easily their dialogue was to write, I wanted them together immediately. The last few pages of ‘The Glass House’ absolutely melt me, even now. I take no credit. Brayden was an absolute charmer the way he surprised Ana. The idea for him to run off to Greece and buy the company (but to make the reader think he flew to Dubai to see Ana) came in the last thirty hours of writing the manuscript. I didn’t plan any of that. Brayden decided he wanted to go after Ana and my writing just wasn’t working - until I listened to what my characters were saying. I ran with it, despite that I was in the editing phase and already had an ending. I rewrote the entire last several chapters to accommodate Brayden’s little jaunt abroad, then him killing us all with the kiss, “and now, I believe we’re courting.’’ Ugh. Brayden. What you do to me.
With, ‘Unfailing Love,’ there is little to say, because it’s still in editing. Comments and reflections on this one will be another blog post, after release.
This is definitely the real Bella. I never lie to readers, and I don’t fabricate anything as part of my branding (my branding follows the real me, not the other way around) but of course, the series is fiction. My life isn’t. One day, I hope to have a mansion with countless bedrooms where people will come to stay and share the hospitality a large estate can offer. I will call it Waldorf Manor. I drew a picture of that mansion when I was eleven years old, so it begs the question: does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? In my case, it might go both ways.
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