The RONA shortlists: Emma Fraser on When the Dawn Breaks

Richard Lee

Emma Fraser is shortlisted for the Epic Romantic Novel Prize. See the other shortlisted historical titles for the Romantic Novel of The Year. The winner will be announced on Monday 17th March 2014.

What was the initial inspiration for this story (or character or setting). Did the idea stay true throughout the writing? What elements came unexpectedly, serendipitously, fortuitously? Is there a scene or a character or a plot turn that you are most proud of?

When the Dawn Breaks was inspired by the amazing – and true – story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, an all-women team who set up field hospitals in France, Greece and Serbia. As an islander myself, Skye became an important part of the story. As part of my research I took a cottage there and planned exactly where my characters lived. One element out of several bits of serendipity was discovering that the house where my doctor and his family lived had been a doctor’s house for generations.

One of my favourite scenes is when Dr Inglis (I kept the name of the real person), knowing that the enemy is advancing, and not knowing how they’d be treated if captured, asks the women if they want to leave. This scene came so vividly when I was writing it and I still get a lump in my throat when I read it out, because I know this is what probably really happened.

History and romance, or romance and history? How did the history inform the romance in this novel? How was romance ‘different’ then? 

The history came first but of course no story is complete, or true, without a love story.

Clearly the time influenced the romance, particularly the consequences of falling pregnant and not being married. Also the love story between Archie and Isabel – each from different social classes – is very much a result of the time they’re living in.

Which writers have most influenced your work? What kinds of things are writers doing now that is better than older school writers of historical romance?

I’m a huge Dickens and Austen fan. I love their characters and their use of language, but most of all the way they just tell a story. I also admire Sir Walter Scott and have one of my main characters reading The Bride of Lammermoor and comparing Archie to Scott’s hero. Another much loved author is Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  His Sunset Song is a wonderful, wonderful book.

Not sure what modern writers are doing better – hopefully making the historical background to their story come alive and feel relevant to modern day readers.

Cathie Earnshaw or Elizabeth Bennett? Elizabeth Bennet

Shabby chic or National Trust? National Trust

Jamie Fraser or the Scarlet Pimpernel? The latter



Posted by Richard Lee


  1. Carol McGrath
    March 15, 2014

    This is on my list to read. I also love Walter Scott and wrote about him in an academic thesis. He is such a neglected writer. Good luck with the RoNAS.

  2. Emma Fraser
    March 15, 2014

    Thanks Carol. When I was at uni my lecturer told us to always skip Scott’s prefaces…as they were likely to to put readers off reading further. Would you agree? I always follow his advice. Although Scott isn’t thought of as funny, there are parts of the Bride of Lammermoor that made me laugh out loud.

    • carol mcgrath
      March 16, 2014

      I wrote about Scott in my academic thesis on how romance tempers realism in historical fiction. I came to love him. He used love triangles and wrote women very well as ‘Bride’ illustrates. I would read the prefaces after the book and I would skim colloquial language. The narratives and characters are engaging but sometimes his use of language can be an impediment for the modern reader until he/she gets caught up in the story. it is worth the effort. His stories are brilliant.