Menu Close

The Difficult Journey of Bear No Malice

I’m very excited to reveal the gorgeous cover for my second novel, Bear No Malice! The design team at Pegasus Books did an amazing job of creating a cover that not only perfectly represents the themes of the novel but also ties in beautifully with Impossible Saints. The tagline for Bear No Malice is “Great Expectations meets Grantchester in this story of love and lies, secrets and second chances, set in Edwardian England.” It’s available for preorder on and!
My agent, Laura Crockett, was the first to recognize the similarities between Bear No Malice and Grantchester: Thomas Cross and Sidney Chambers are both clergymen with a dark side and a weakness for women who are bad for them. But Tom also owes something of his circumstances and personality to Pip, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Bear No Malice is a companion novel to Impossible Saints, covering roughly the same timeline and with some of the same characters, notably Paul Harris and Thomas Cross. Only this time it’s Tom’s story, and Paul is not exactly the villain, but he’s certainly no hero. I’m going to focus on Tom in this blog post, but I want to mention that Bear No Malice is also the story of secretive artist Miranda Thorne, who did not appear in Impossible Saints. (For readers who might be wondering, it doesn’t matter which of the two novels you read first.)
When I finished writing the first draft of Impossible Saints in 2008, I had no ideas for a new novel. This worried me. I wanted to keep writing, so I decided to try an experiment. It was meant to be an intellectual exercise to keep me busy until I came up with a good idea for a new novel. It turned out that the experiment itself became a new novel!
I’ve always been fascinated by the way two people can have completely different perceptions of the same event or even the same relationship. To Paul, Tom is a villain. But Tom isn’t a villain in his own eyes. If I told his story from his point of view, would I (and readers) sympathize with him? Would Paul be the villain in his story?
Thus began a very long and painful struggle. It surprised me how much more difficult it was to write Bear No Malice than it was to write Impossible Saints. Even though both novels went through many years of revision and countless drafts, I wrote the first draft of Impossible Saints in a flush of first-novel excitement. I hadn’t given myself permission to write Paul and Lilia’s story until they’d already been living in my head for ten years. I felt like a racehorse finally being set free after years of being confined in a corral. It couldn’t help but be an exciting, heady experience!
In contrast, the protagonists of Bear No Malice were relatively new to me, and I think I felt disloyal to Paul as I tried to see the good qualities in his nemesis. It was also very challenging to try to get into the head of a character who is so different from me (in both personality and gender). I’ve always identified strongly with Paul and am suspicious of men like Tom. But I also made assumptions about Tom when I didn’t really know him. I wasn’t listening to him, thus breaking the One Rule No Writer Should Ever Break, according to this excellent article by Lauren Sapala.
Now, when I look back at the interviews I conducted with Tom years ago, it’s obvious that I wasn’t listening. (I always interview my characters if I’m having difficulty understanding their motivations.) Here’s part of the transcript of an unedited (gulp!) interview from 2010:
CH (Clarissa): After weeks of struggling with the end of Tom’s story, I’ve finally decided to talk to him about it. Welcome, Tom, and thanks for meeting with me today.
TC (Tom): You’re welcome.
CH: I’m going to be completely honest with you. You’ve been a freaking thorn in my side ever since I decided to tell your story. Why have you made it so difficult for me?
TC: I didn’t make it difficult intentionally. But the fact is that I was the villain in your last novel, and I saw no signs that you were going to be fair to me when you started this one.
CH: Really, Tom, you can’t make such an accusation. My whole point in writing Bear No Malice was to make you the hero. You saw how I had no mercy on Paul Harris.
TC: Yes, well, maybe you overdid it there. You didn’t have to throw him to the wolves.
CH: Hey, what’s with that? You, defending Paul?
TC: Not defending him, just questioning your methods.
CH: See, that’s the whole problem with you. You’re so arrogant and you think your way is the only way. Why don’t you write your own story if you think you could do a better job?
TC: Good Lord. There’s no need to get hysterical. You’re doing a perfectly competent job of it—you just don’t trust yourself enough. You’ve got to stop second-guessing yourself and just write the damn story.
Shortly after this, Tom and I exchanged words, over which I draw a veil. They are not suitable for a public blog, and certainly unbecoming of a clergyman. Suffice it to say that he cursed me and walked out of the room.
During a second interview, I lost sight of the fact that I was speaking to someone living in the Edwardian era. I told Tom he needed psychotherapy, and he responded with, “What is psychotherapy?”
On my third try, I started to realize that I wasn’t listening.
TC: Look, I don’t like being treated like a piece of meat. If you were a character in a book and the only redeeming quality your author saw in you was that you were good-looking, wouldn’t that annoy you?
CH: I guess so. Ok, I see your point. Maybe I haven’t given you a fair chance, and maybe I’m the one who needs therapy because I seem to be taking out some personal rage on you.
I proceeded to apologize, and we did better after that.
I find the interview amusing now, but it also brings back my frustration with the process of writing this book.
Author Emma Barry wrote this great blog post about feeling jealous of her readers because they get to read her books without being affected by the experience of writing them. I couldn’t agree more. Several early readers of Bear No Malice have told me they prefer it to Impossible Saints, and that blows my mind because the struggle of writing it affects my perception of the finished product.
I remember the same thing happening with my dissertation. I wrote Chapter 2 first, and it was a horrible, painful struggle throughout. I wrote Chapter 6 last; it was fun and flowed pretty easily. Years later, I went back to read these chapters and was shocked to find that they were equally good. Not great. Just equally good. Neither the struggle with Chapter 2 nor the exhilaration of Chapter 6 was reflected in the writing.
In Middlemarch, George Eliot’s enormous, wonderful Victorian novel, the omniscient narrator urges readers to consider the point of view of Casaubon, Dorothea’s uptight elderly husband. Dorothea is the young, beautiful, intelligent protagonist whose thoughts and feelings readers are privy to, so we can’t help but be on her side. In Eliot’s famous “Why always Dorothea?” passage in Chapter 29, the narrator protests “against all our interest, all our effort at understanding being given to the young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble . . . . In spite of the blinking eyes and white moles . . . Mr Casaubon had an intense consciousness within him, and was spiritually a-hungered like the rest of us.”
Most readers never feel much, if any, sympathy for Casaubon, primarily because the narrator doesn’t allow us into his thoughts and feelings. Trying to browbeat us into sympathy, as she does in Chapter 29, doesn’t work. I’m not volunteering for the job, but I suspect that a novel written from Casaubon’s point of view would indeed make readers feel sympathetic to him.
In any case, sometime during the process of revising Bear No Malice for what felt like the millionth time, I stopped fighting with Tom, started listening, and ultimately fell in love with him. I hope readers will, too!

Leave a Reply