(We welcome Ainslie Paton to the Escapades to talk about her new novel, Detained)
I didn’t start out to write a billionaire trope when I wrote the first pivotal scene of Detained.
When I wrote Getting Real, I deliberately set out to create a story that was a switch on the rock star sub genre. I was out to subvert. I wrote a wild child female rock star.
But when I started Detained all I had was the idea of being confined with a stranger and being able to tell that stranger any shameful, secret, damning thing you wanted to—because you were never going to see them again.
I had this contained, yet freeing moment to play with. But then I had to populate it with interesting people and a reason for them to be wrong about being so trusting.
I wanted my hero, Will, to be someone who carved his success from the hardest rock, but was constrained by his shameful origins and needed rigid control to hold his life together. I wrote Will as a man with a secret that had horrific power over him even as that secret was the catalyst behind his success.
I didn’t set out to make Will a billionaire. He’s no Christian Grey or Gideon Cross, or any of the trope’s most popular members. He just became one because it fitted. His wealth is immaterial to the story, except that it positions him as someone with extreme determination and grit. He’s accidentally a billionaire because that’s the life I built him from the poverty of his childhood. It was the best way to illustrate the sheer guts and cleverness of the man to take it from one extreme to the other.
The billionaire thing was also a useful, but perhaps surprising, fit with the city of Shanghai, one of Asia’s most incredible cities. It ranks ninth for the number of billionaires, beaten by the cities you’d expect: Tokyo, London, New York, and Paris.
So I was seduced by writing the world that opened up. I could have property and jets and money as no object, but I could also use those things as a foil and show them as meaningless to Will who is more comfortable in his rag bag clothes than he is in formal attire.
I could show that Will wasn’t made of his wealth but rather of deeper character traits.
With the Christians and Gideons of the billionaire trope world, wealth is magically accumulated at baby ages with blazing speed and seemingly little or no effort on their part that can’t be picked up and put down for any little romantic interruption, often in the middle of the work day. Their extreme and seemingly unassailable wealth just is. They’re sometimes seen doing the business end of glamour—board meetings and power lunches, takeovers and mergers. They have minions, so they can skive off for weekends of yachting or love-making in exotic destinations.
Will is older, and part of his story is how he clawed his way to a position he needs to protect. Will works long days, does plant inspections and trouble shooting, dodges social engagements to focus on his business. He reads complex reports and worries about shareholders. He has minions too, but he carries the weight of responsibility for their actions. And his wealth is not impregnable. It can be, and is threatened.
It’s impossible to imagine Christian or Gideon without their wealth. That magnificence of magical achievement is a huge part of who they are. Will has to face to fact that the decisions he makes could result in defeat and disgrace, and the need to start all over again.
And if I’ve written him right that only makes him more attractive.
Christian and Gideon are modern day princes with hurt psyches, but physical perfection. The only area of their lives in which they make mistakes is with their women. They are otherwise omnipotent.
With his scars, Will is not so pretty. He wears his origins proudly because they’ve made him who he is: a survivor, an underdog, who scraped and fought and made his future. It’s that which hopefully makes him attractive, more than his fancy suits and fabulous homes.
Maybe all that’s not as romantic as magic wealth, power and position, ranked alongside impossible beauty, and inescapable attachment, but it’s a tad more realistic and I hope a lot more heroic.
Having created Will, I needed to give him a match. And there were certain things my heroine could not be: shy, insecure, bumbling, naive. Darcy is no Ana, no Eva. She’s not new adult young and starting out.
I wanted Darcy to be someone who was struggling to prove her worth in an industry that penalised her for her gender, and held her to higher standards because of her family—a family who also saw her femaleness as something that should define who she was first and foremost.
She’s not been singled out for special attention. She has to kick and scream and fight to get ahead; she has to do a better job than the men she works with just to hold her place. She’s not looking for a hand-up, a mentor, a lover, or a saviour. She’s trying to do a job she’s skilled at and passionate about.
Darcy isn’t attracted to the billionaire, she’s attracted to the knockabout bloke she meets in detention. It’s a shock to discover Will is not who she thinks he is, but once she does, she’s all business. And that business is distrust. In her profession—journalism, everything is open to question in pursuit of the truth. A truth Will dangles and then just as quickly snatches away.
This is not a coming of age story for Darcy. It’s not a story about dependence. It’s the opposite. Darcy’s journey is about learning to trust her own judgement and separate herself from expectations.
Will is an obstacle not a love interest. He’s the job, not someone Darcy stumbles into and forever enchants. For Will, Darcy is a distraction, a dalliance, and then a cause for deep seated guilt.
They don’t need each other, and bad things happen when they’re together.
Darcy doesn’t rescue Will. She throws him to the sharks. Will doesn’t claim Darcy. He gives her up.
And yet, and yet, this is a romance, and from their very first detention to their last, through all the lust, anger, fear, terror and uncertainty thrown their way, they hold each other’s hearts in their hands.
I didn’t mean to write a billionaire story, but I have, and it will be up to you, Dear Reader, to judge whether it’s a poor imitation of the already available trope or a hyper-real spin that takes you some place new.
I hope you’ll let me know what you think.