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THE PORTRAIT OF ME
“AS ALWAYS, MS. HUR GIVES US WHAT WE WANT.”
— Blah-blah-blah Gazette
The Portrait of Me
AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND A TEAR-JERKER.
IT’S [A] CHILLING, PRECIOUSLY GOOD CAPTURE OF
A BRIGHT NEW NOVELIST’S LIFE.”
Author of Onions just don’t make you cry
“BEAUTIFULLY WRITTE. ABSOLUTELY BREATH TAKING.”
“RIVETTING…A VERY INTERESTING TALE OF AN AUTHOR’S LIFE,
ONE THAT WILL KEEP READERS UP ALL NIGHT!”
Text Copyright June Hur
Excerpts of writing in this work are in their original, unabridged state.
All Rights Reserved
Printed in Canada
Fact: All excerpts of the stories I wrote presented in this autobiography are original.
Nothing has been corrected or altered in any way, be it the grammar or typos.
During my childhood years, I hated to read, I hated to write, but I loved to borrow books. I would frequent the library with my mom and younger sister every Saturday. There, I’d spend hours scavenging the bookshelves looking for the books with pretty covers. I’d borrow it, read a few pages, and then get bored of it.
The only book I remember having truly enjoyed was the one I had read in grade 5, titled, ‘The Magician’s Nephew,’ by C.S. Lewis. Hooked, I read the sequel, ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,’ which I enjoyed even more. However, the following Chronicles of Narnia disappointed me. And so I fell back into the period of Literary Depression that had me borrowing tons of books yet never reading past a chapter of it.
Somewhere during the start of grade 7, I went to Indigo with my dad and he recommended Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which he then bought for me. I loved it so much. I began to read the other books written by Bronte, then the ones written by her sisters–Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I borrowed more books written by authors in the 19th century, and I admit to have skimmed through most of them. Nevertheless, I was still interest in these classics even though I barely understood half the book itself. I loved their customs, their fashion, their society.
Around this time, I ended up watching the black and white version of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I instantly fell in love and rented the 1995 BBC adaptation of it and also read the book. I ended up in a state of obsession that no words could describe, but only witnessed by the big stack of papers, where I had written the continuation of Pride and Prejudice. Writing sequels to this love story had become my guilty pleasure. Instead of doing my homework, I would write, until my dad came in to check up on me, which was when I’d quickly cover the paper with a homework sheet and pretend to be studying hard.
Being that this was the first time I tried to write a story, it read like this:
It had been two week since their marriage. Elizabeth Darcy was still witty, lively, young, and beautiful as ever. Darcy was also young, and witty, clever, and handsome. Jane once told Elizabeth that she thought that Darcy had become less proud, inscrutable, and taciturn. However, still Elizabeth knew that Darcy still had them, but she had to admit Darcy had improved since their marriage.
I finally urged myself to read the other novels written by Jane Austen. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were the two that made me fall madly in love with the Regency Era (1811-1820). And this love for the early 19th century England was kindled even more as I found and read Young Adult romance novels set in that same time period.
Then to my horror I one day discovered that I had read all the historical romances in the Juvenile section. My head slowly turned to the ‘Forbidden Area’–a.k.a the adult section where historical romance books have women with their dresses falling off them, embraced in the arms of half-naked men.
Led out of desperation to read more Regency romances, I snuck over to the romance rack where Innocent me had never dared to go before. I borrowed the book which looked safest. And to this day, I still remember who the author had been, thought I can’t recall the title: it was by Johanna Lindsey and the cover of the book had a pretty manor on it. It looked like a very decent read.–But oh lord was I in for a shock.
The book was fine, very romantic, until the chemistry between the protagonists began to intensify. That was when my eyes practically fell out in horror. I was like: ‘WHAT? You can write about characters ‘doing it’ in BOOKS? WHAT?’
After the shock wore away, I continued to borrow more Harlequin romances. I would finish reading them in less than a week. And after reading almost twenty romance novels a month, I began to write my own. The first original romance I wrote and completed was titled ‘Sinful Desire,’ which wasn’t all that sinful, as I found myself too embarrassed to emulate the naughty content of the books I’d read.
The completion of this story was followed by several other works which I abandoned after a few chapters. The next story I completed, titled ‘A Rose for Eleanor’ was about a heroine who got amnesia, was being chased by a man from her past, and found sanctuary in the protection of a “wealthy, titled, tall, handsome, brooding rake.” Here is an excerpt of the story I wrote in ’04:
“Where am I?” she asked in a barely audible voice.
“In my estate, madam.” He looked into her clear blue eyes…The blue eyes…”Where do you live?”
No reply but silence came from her.
“Your home? Where is it…do you hear and understand me?” he asked slowly.
“I am neither deaf nor witless – I heard you quite well and understood you just the same – the problem is…I do not know who I am.”
He stared at her in surprise then slowly nodded his head as the information was completely absorbed into his mind and he understood what might have become of this poor lady. “You have amnesia….”
“I – guess so…do you think that I shall be able to find my past again?” she asked.
“I am sure you will – well I hope you will, madam. It would be quite awkward to live a life without a past.”
“May I ask for your name?”
She took a long minuet to rake her mind for the answer. “Ah! Yes…it is…El…Eleanor…Grenville.”
“Miss Grenville….I see.” He glanced down at her blue eyes, “Is there by any chance that you may like – roses?” he asked suddenly.
She shook her head. “I do not know…I do not think I do – roses have thorns…and I remember – that I had been pricked by them many times.”
Go ahead. Laugh. I’m laughing too. Ha ha ha.
In the summer of ’04 I moved to Korea with my family. There, I was stuck in school for most of the time (in Korea, high school started at 8:40 a.m. and ended at 11p.m.) so I was unable to write as much I wanted. The more I was deprived of my time to write, the more my passion for it grew. And so I would write whenever I had spare time—I’d write in class, since I barely understood what the teacher was teaching as I didn’t know Korean much, and I’d write the moment I came home to the hour I went to sleep.
I continued to write Regency-set romances, all of which I later abandoned, quickly losing interest in them. This abandoning of stories became an bad habit of mine. One day I decided to try writing a story based on this one scene I’d had in a dream years ago and had remained imprinted in my mind—A prostitute in a brothel, flirting yet feeling miserable, and then stunned when a gentleman enters, come to redeem her from this life. From this one scene I contrived a whole plotline which I planned to write in 10 chapters, fearing I’d abandon it if I wrote any longer. But 10 chapters turned into 15 and 15 into 25 chapters consisting of 90,000+ words. This story, I titled it, ‘The Runaway Courtesan.’:
(Revised, current version)
As he walked down the street, the heels of his boots rang against the cobbled ground that glistened in the rain. The dim street lamps did little to ward away the growing darkness of the evening, leaving his countenance a dark mystery. Only when the cheroot he was smoking glowed of brilliant red did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of deep-set gray eyes.
The gentleman slipped a miniature portrait out of his pocket and inspected the face of a young woman, no older than sixteen. It was not a beautiful face, for it was too narrow, the cheeks too prominent, the chin too pointed, and the jaw too squared. But her lack in appearance was easily substituted by the restrained animation that seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes, and her lips, arched at the corners, as if she were secretly amused by something.
Reaching the threshold of a cheap-looking brothel—the small letters above the door read “Harleton House”—he carefully tucked away the portrait. Finally, after all these months, he had found her.
‘She should be two-and-twenty by now,’ he thought, as he dropped the cheroot and ground it with the back of his heel. The glowing stub hissed under the pattering rain. He raised his fist and knocked on the door of the brothel.
The keeper of this rat’s nest opened it partway, and as soon as she saw how expensively the stranger was dressed, her demeanour, which held the sentiment ‘What the devil do you want?’ instantly changed to wariness.
He touched the brim of his hat in greeting and said, “I’m here to speak with the mistress of this house.”
“Aye. I’m she.”
The door, being ajar, left a frame through which allowed him a better view of the woman’s fat body, her powdered face, decorated with a patch at the corner of her lips, and the crowd of harlots and drunkards behind her.
She called to him with emphasized politeness, “Sir?”
“Madam,” said he, as he pushed against the door, which the woman reluctantly opened. He stepped in, and the laughter and cajoling that had moments before filled the brothel immediately turned into hushed murmurs. The debauched creatures stared at him as he walked past them, the brothel madam shuffling behind.
A plump hand grabbed his arm, dirt lining the crescent of the nails. “Oh, look at ‘em legs,” cooed the woman, eyeing his figure. “Never saw such long ‘n lean ones in the whole course of me life.” She ran her hand up and down his chest. “I wouldn’t mind a pair of ‘em wrapped around me.”
He glanced at her yellow teeth, outlined in black and framed by her smiling red lips. He peeled her fingers off, and walked on. “Good lord,” he murmured under his breath.
Disgusted, he began to worry that Amanda Hollingworth might have turned out to look like that. His eyes roamed about the place, searching for the face from the portrait. Seeing no one similar, he turned to look at the madam, and said, “I’m looking for an Amanda—” and he added, that nothing should hinder his scheme “—I took an interest in that chit. What is she, eighteen? Seventeen?”
“Two and twenty, sir,” she replied. “Amanda might be a sweet lass, but she’s no beauty. We’ve got girls who know how to properly please a man,” she added, grinning, even daring to nudge Lucas with her elbow. But the grin faltered when she was subjected to his indifferent stare.
“No, I’ve come for Amanda, no one else,” he replied, and to nullify any suspicion, he offered her a bag of coins which would be a fortune to a woman like her. “Now, where is she?”
Snatching the coins from his hand, the madam called out in a stentorian voice, “Amanda! Amanda!” A pause. “Amandaaaaa.” Another pause ensued before followed by a sudden: “Ah! There she is. D’you see her, sir?”
Lucas scanned the crowd. In the far corner of the brothel, he saw the face from the portrait: the common brown eyes, the brows which were oblique, dark slashes across her white skin, her long cascade of dark brown hair. She wore a vulgar red dress and white threaded stockings. Her countenance no longer held the vigour and sparkle which had so defined the girl in the painting. Whatever had stolen the youth from her had transformed her features to sharp angles. Perhaps it was the awful stench of the brothel. He wouldn’t have been surprised.
Half of the story of mine had been written to fit in with the romance trend of today: the woman meets a handsome, wealthy man à attraction sparks à the man seduces the woman à man somehow breaks woman’s heart à woman leaves and man goes through an Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her epiphany à man pursues woman à wins woman à then they live happily-ever-after. But after I branched out of these paperback romances and rediscovered my interest in literature, I changed my storyline.
A few of the books which made a change in me as a writer was Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey, and The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. I also read semi-love stories that inspired me, like Madam Bovary, Middlemarch, and Jane Eyre (which I had read before, but on the second read, it had a bigger impact on me).
All these books had influenced me greatly while I was writing the latter half of ‘The Runaway Courtesan.’ After completing this manuscript, which took a year, I began to revise it, rewriting several scenes, dialogues and narrations which I thought were lacking in some ways.
I’m still revising my story to this day, and have been for several months now. After hearing of the great works which took several years for writers to publicize—like The Poisonwood Bible and the script of my recent favourite movie The Lives of Others—I was motivated to rein back my eagerness to publish. So I plan to revise for as many months or years it takes until I feel that my work will be viewed by the public as something more than just “another adult romance” that’ll go out of print in a year, stacked away among the other forgotten love stories.