In her first blog York writer Helen Cadbury joins the emotional rollercoaster ride of romantic fiction
As it’s the month of Valentine’s Day, and we’ve just had the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, I thought I’d kick off by talking about romantic fiction. It’s not a genre I know a great deal about, but I like a challenge.
So, here goes: simpering girl meets dashing young chap, falls in love, he doesn’t notice or care or is blocked by a dastardly rival but finally she falls into his arms and consummation ensues. Right? Well, not necessarily. Jane Austen’s legacy may be a little more powerful than that. The moment of attraction, the barriers put in the way of two people in love and the final happy ending ensure that romance is the ideal framework for telling a good story.
Think of a novel you’ve read recently, in any genre, did it have a love story somewhere in the mix? I bet it did. And for modern readers, a romantic heroine needs to be a modern woman. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is surprisingly modern, especially given the financial implications of turning down a suitor quite as quickly as she turns down Mr Collins. He’s an idiot, so that’s OK, but the reader is left worrying whether she’ll be left on the shelf, except, of course, we know there’ll be a happy ending, because we’re in the world of romance.
To overcome my ignorance about the genre, I met up with York-based romantic fiction writer Jessica Hart to find out more.
‘It’s all about the hero and heroine’
Is a good romance story about achieving the impossible or the possible?
Most people think that a romance is about how a boy and girl meet, fall in love and get married. It’s not. It’s about why two characters, who are powerfully attracted to each other, not only won’t acknowledge that they love each other but believe that they can’t. It’s about two people dealing with apparently insuperable obstacles between them, overcoming their fears and daring to change. So yes, it’s certainly possible. Not easy, but possible.
Does romance work better in an exotic location?
It’s not essential but I often find that taking at least one of the main characters out of their comfort zone and putting them somewhere new and challenging works well. Combine that with a situation that forces the hero and heroine together without the support or distractions of family and friends, and you can really ratchet up the emotional tension, but in a classic romance the setting is always secondary. The only thing the reader cares about is the relationship between the hero and the heroine, wherever they are.
What’s your favourite all time love story?
Hhhmmm, this is a tough question. I don’t think I can pick just one! The first romances I ever read were by Mary Stewart (This Rough Magic, Madam Will You Talk?) and Georgette Heyer (The Talisman Ring, Friday’s Child, Sylvester) and they’re still favourites of mine that I go back to time after time. For contemporary romance, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my all-time favourite authors. Dream A Little Dream and Nobody’s Baby But Mine are outstanding.
You write historical fiction under your own name, Pamela Hartshorne. Is there still some romance hidden among the history?
I made a big effort to write something that was not a romance when I started writing time slips, but the fact is that I like a story with a happy ending (and why do I sound defensive about that?) When I read I want to be engaged with the characters and I think adding an emotional element to the plot adds to the tension. My time slips are part historical fiction, part ghost stories, with a touch of psychological thriller but a definite seasoning of romance too, and I was very happy indeed when I heard that Time’s Echo had been shortlisted in the historical romantic novel category in the Romantic Novelists’ Association RoNA awards.
What are the top three things that make a romantic novel successful?
Emotion, emotion, emotion.
Can you write a flash romance?
Do you read romances? Tell us what you enjoy.
Can you write a flash romance? A love story which begins “The only thing that stood in their way was…” in under 150 words. We’ll feature the best three on the blog next month. Only one rule: keep them clean!
Send them to: [email protected]
Helen Cadbury is a York-based writer whose debut novel, To Catch A Rabbit, is joint winner of the Northern Crime Award, and will be published by Moth Publishing, May 2013. To find out more about Helen, check out her website