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Archive for the tag “romance”

Romance is in the air

Everywhere I go at the moment there are hearts and roses. Love is in the air and we might as well enjoy it. Some of us are lucky enough to have our own Valentine waiting for us at home (!) but whether we have or not, reading a romantic novel is another great way to celebrate!AOL0-600

As an author I am often asked about my favourite books and whether they have influenced my writing. I have always been a big, and eclectic, reader. My reading has definitely influenced not only what I write about, but also how I write it. I might add here how amazed I often am when I talk to other writers (especially wannabe writers) and discover how little they read.

I’m convinced that analysing how successful authors structure their stories, how they create characters and achieve that all important ‘page turning power’ is the best training a writer can have. ‘But I get far too engrossed in novels to stop and analyse them,’ people say. But of course it is exactly those extra-engrossing novels that we should be learning from – so read them twice! Certainly all the novels on my favourite romantic reads list below are ones I have read at least twice.

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth – a very clever, beautifully written, literary novel set in Venice in three different periods of history.
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif – a sweeping desert adventure set in N Africa, wonderful writing and compelling story.
Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough – a big Australian saga about impossible love. Choose this for a long and engrossing read.
Eightsome Reel by Magda Sweetland – an intensely emotional sweeping Scottish saga.
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye – a hugely satisfying romantic historical saga set in 19th Century India, amazing sense of time and place.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a Regency romance with humour, elegance and style, one of her best.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – if you are short of time, read this and weep!

My own books all have elements of romance in them too, Some Sunny Day is probably the most emotional of the Lavender Road wartime series. The Art of Loving is specifically designed to make you laugh and cry. And of course Slick Deals contains the enigmatically sexy Nick Jardine!
Enjoy!

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Why are we so shy about romance?

wartime romanceOver the last few years there has been a big rise in sales of romantic novels. For a while the industry was puzzled, but gradually the reason has become clear. With the advent of Kindles and iPads people have suddenly found themselves able to read romantic fiction without detection. Gone are the days when you had to conceal your Mills&Boon in the pages of War and Peace in case your boss sat next to you on the tube. Now you can upload romances to your heart’s content (as long as you can still talk knowledgeably about The Catcher in the Rye in an emergency!) and romance sales have consequently boomed.

So why are we so shy about our love of romantic fiction? Perhaps it is partly because the so called trashy romances gave the genre a bad name. But there’s also plenty of badly written crime fiction around (not to mention shockingly poor Ian Fleming imitations) and that hasn’t given the crime/thriller genre a bad name. Of course the British literati have turned their noses up at romance for years, often refusing even to acknowledge it as an important element in the popularity of certain ‘literary’ novels. Runaway bestsellers such as Birdsong and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are praised by literary critics for the quality of the writing, the historical accuracy and powerful characterisation, but very few praise them for including a cracking love story!

And why shouldn’t we relish a romantic novel or two? They are just as difficult to write. What is any novel, after all, but a means to escape the real world and lose ourselves in an exploration of make-believe, whether it be exciting cliff top chases (Slick Deals), gun battles, gruesome murders, wartime life (Lavender Road), psychology, fantasy, science fiction or romantic relationships (The Art of Loving)? Whether we like to admit it or not, romance, in one form or another, plays a huge part in our lives. We humans are emotional beings and it’s not surprising that we seek out novels that allow us to explore our feelings and fantasies. What is more surprising is that we still feel the need to have The Catcher in the Rye up our sleeve!

So as we head towards Valentine’s Day once again, why not treat yourself to a really good, engaging, romantic read? You might be pleasantly surprised.

Is romance getting harder?

Is romance getting harder? No, no, no, I’m not talking about 40 Shades or any other semi sado nonsense, that’s not romance, that’s just mindless titillation when compared with the enduring, gut wrenching, emotional tension of a well written love story.

Living in an open, tolerant (well, all things are relative) society is great, but it’s not so good for contemporary romance writers. Because powerful fictional romance isn’t about the protagonists being together, it’s much more about keeping them apart. The term ‘star-crossed lovers’ gives a clue. Love stories hinge on the concept of ‘what’s to stop them?’ and in our current ‘anything goes/who cares’ society, frankly, there’s not much to stop anybody doing anything.

Open-mindedness, ease of travel and (comparative) affluence has clearly made life much more difficult for contemporary romance writers. They now have to work much harder to create plausible constraints (emotional not physical) and friction (emotional not physical) to keep their lovers apart. But if they want to achieve the ‘tears on the pillow’ and ‘page-turning power’ of a real enduring love story that’s exactly what they have to do – they have to create two great, thoroughly believable characters who ultimately belong together but cannot actually get together for equally great, thoroughly believable reasons.

And finding those reasons isn’t easy. As a society we have moved on from those good (in the fictionally useful sense) old days of class conflict, xenophobia, faith incompatibility, virgin bride, anti divorce, homophobia, feuding families and so on. It’s certainly not always easy for couples nowadays, but these kind of ‘cross boundary’ liaisons rarely engender the stigma and taboo they once did.

A few prejudices do inevitably linger on, but on the whole they are more likely to generate a few raised eyebrows or even a giggle than ostracism, disinheritance or danger of death at the brother’s hand. When it comes down to it, there is very little now to stop him and her, or her and her, or him and him, getting together.

It’s so much easier in historical fiction where the writer can summon up chaperones, invading armies, fight to the death religions and brutal, all powerful fathers at the touch of the pen (or mouse).

Yes, of course there are still the conventional old chestnuts for contemporary romance writers to fall back on, the mistaken identities, the lost email, the huffy misunderstanding, even, in absolute desperation, the natural disaster, but it’s hard to string these along for 100,000 words without the reader flinging down their Kindle, turning to their foreign, cross-dressed, age-gapped lover and saying, ‘Oh for goodness sake, why don’t they just get on with it!’

Romantic novels to cry for …

Everywhere I go at the moment there are hearts and roses.  Love is in the air and we might as well enjoy it.  Some of us are lucky enough to have our own Valentine waiting for us at home (!) but whether we have or not, reading a romantic novel is another great way to celebrate …

As an author I am often asked about my favourite books and whether they have influenced my writing.  I have always been an avid (and eclectic) reader. My reading has definitely influenced not only what I write about, but also how I write it. I might add here how amazed I often am when I talk to other writers (especially wannabe writers) and discover how little they read.

I’m convinced that analysing how successful authors structure their stories, how they create characters and achieve that all important ‘page turning power’ is the best training a writer can have.  ‘But I get far too engrossed in novels to stop and analyse them,’ people say. But of course it is exactly those extra-engrossing novels that we should be learning from – so read them again! Certainly all the novels on my favourite romantic reads list below are ones I have read at least twice. 

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth – a very clever, beautifully written, literary novel set in Venice in three different periods of history.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif – a sweeping desert adventure set in North Africa, wonderful writing and compelling story.

Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough – the big Australian saga about impossible love. Choose this for a long and engrossing read.

Eightsome Reel by Magda Sweetland – an intensely emotional sweeping Scottish love story.

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye – a hugely satisfying historical saga set in 19th Century India, amazing sense of time and place.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a Regency romance with humour, elegance and style, one of her best.

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – if you are short of time, read this and weep! 

My own books all have elements of romance in them too, Some Sunny Day is probably the most emotional of the war series. The Art of Loving is specifically designed to make you laugh and cry. And of course Slick Deals contains the enigmatically sexy Nick Jardine!  

Enjoy!

Is romance on the rise?

Over the last couple of years there has been a significant rise in sales of romantic novels. For a while the industry was puzzled, but gradually the reason has become clear. With the advent of Kindles and other eReaders people have suddenly found themselves able to read romantic fiction without detection. Gone are the days when you had to conceal your Mills&Boon in the pages of War and Peace in case your boss caught you reading in your lunch break. Now you can upload romances to your heart’s content (as long as you also have The Catcher in the Rye handy to flip over to when someone asks what you are reading!) and eRomance sales have consequently boomed. 

So why are we so shy about our love of romantic fiction? Perhaps it is partly because the so called trashy romances gave the genre a bad name. But there’s also plenty of badly written crime fiction around and that hasn’t given the crime genre a bad name. Of course the British literati have turned their noses up at romance for years, often refusing even to acknowledge it as an important element in the popularity of certain ‘literary’ novels. Runaway bestsellers such as Birdsong and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are praised by literary critics for the quality of the writing, the historical accuracy and powerful characterisation, but very few praise them for including a cracking love story! 

And why shouldn’t we relish a good romantic read? They are just as difficult to write. What is any novel after all but a means to escape the real world and lose ourselves in an exploration of make-believe, whether it be cliff top chases, gun battles, gruesome murders, ancient history, psychology, fantasy, science fiction or human relationships? Whether we like to admit it or not, romance, in one form or another, plays a huge part in our lives. We are emotional beings and it’s not surprising that we seek out novels that allow us to explore our feelings and fantasies. What is more surprising is that we still feel the need to have The Catcher in the Rye on standby! 

In my next blog I will outline some of my all time favourite romantic reads, but in the meantime, especially as Valentine’s Day is approaching, I encourage you to take your courage in your hands and lose yourself in a romantic novel.

Creating a hero that women will love

 As an author I’m often asked how I create my characters, are they based on real people or do I make them up.  The truth is that it is a mixture, I make them up but they often have elements drawn from people I know, or have known. My aim, like all novelists, is to to invent characters that readers can believe in. But as I am launching a romantic novel, The Art of Loving, for Valentine’s Day, I don’t just want people believing in my characters, I want them to fall in love with them too. Especially with my hero. 

So what qualities do we look for in a romantic hero?  Traditionally, of course, tall dark and handsome is the benchmark, arrogant comes in handy, rich with a nice house or car is always a bonus, intelligent and quick with words pretty obligatory. But not always. Heathcliff after all wasn’t much good with words, Captain Corelli isn’t rich and doesn’t drive at all, and it has to be admitted (reluctantly) that Jack Bauer is short and fair. For me it’s not just the looks, the cars and the arrogance, although they clearly help. It is much more than that. Those are just surface attributes. Deep character is the key, and that comes from making the character believable, and that means human. 

For readers to believe in characters, those character have to seem like people we might possibly one day meet, not paragons, however gorgeous, but imperfect with endearing (or not so endearing) quirks and foibles.  My hero of The Art of Loving, Max Dreiecke von Hardtwald, has, by any standard, a filthy temper, but he is also very affectionate towards his dying aunt. He drives (his Porsche) far too fast but he also suffers from jetlag. He is infuriated by inefficiency and is furious with himself for falling in love with the (endearingly) scatty heroine. Like me, female readers seem to find him irresistible, despite these foibles – so much so that my husband (clearly green with envy) has started a ‘Boot Max Dreiecke von Hardtwald out of fiction campaign’! 

So, British men, it seems as though you can be as moody and temperamental as you want, but as long as you are affectionate towards your old aunt, women will still fall in love with you.

 

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