Back from France, briefly, before heading off to Canada for a ‘proper’ holiday. Though it wasn’t always easy, I managed to survive a whole week alone in a big old house in France that my husband spent a decade making liveable. (More on that to come on the blog later.) In the meantime, here’s the latest in the summer Guest Author Takeover series.
Romance fiction is often the butt of snide remarks and sniggers. But an awful lot of people enjoy writing in this genre… And why shouldn’t a romance-centred novel or story be as brilliantly written/captivating/worthwhile as say a crime novel, or any other kind? (I’m biased, as my novel Blind Side and another that’s on its way both contain a fair sprinkling of sex, relationships and, dare I say it, romance.)
My guest author Sue Featherstone discusses her reading tastes and challenges us to look afresh at the romance genre.
There’s an awful lot of snobbery about literature. And I’m as guilty as the next person. You’ll almost never find me in a bookshop browsing amongst the romance titles.
Of course NOT! For goodness sake, I’m an English Literature First Class Honours graduate and a bona fide academic with a long career as a university lecturer. People like me don’t read books like that.
Except, confession time: I am an academic and I like romance fiction.
Especially if it’s published in Women’s Weekly. Or People’s Friend. Yes, friends. People’s Friend – ‘The Famous Story Magazine’ – is my guilty secret. And I don’t just buy it…I subscribe. I never miss an edition – even when I’m on holiday.
Hopefully, some of you will believe me when I claim I only became a subscriber so I could pass on magazine copies to friends and family. But you shouldn’t. Everyone I know is more than capable of buying their own magazines. And they do. Usually Private Eye and New Statesman.
No, I buy People’s Friend and the Friend’s Fiction Specials and the Women’s Weekly Fiction Specials because I love the short stories. They’re unbelievably well written – every single word has earned its place on the page – and there are a substantial number of best-selling, big name authors, who can’t hold a literary candle to these largely female short story writers. And yes, their stories, which are often but not exclusively romance fiction, are in the main undemanding feel-good, happy-ever-after, pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow fiction. But that’s absolutely perfect at the end of a working day when my head has been thoroughly scrambled by the demands of writing or editing or teaching. The last thing I need is a story that makes me THINK too hard.
Not that I’d normally admit it in public – what would people think?
Actually, whatever they might think, most people are, like me, secret romantics. According to the Romantic Novelists Association over 90 per cent of all readers – men as well as women – like a bit of romance in their reading.
I like that phrase ‘a bit of romance’. It sums up exactly what I want from a novel. Because, however much I enjoy a short story romance, I’m not quite as enamoured with long form girl-meets-boy, initial-attraction-followed-by-misunderstandings-followed-by-a-reconciliation and happy-ever-after stories. For me, the formula doesn’t work quite as well in novel form. Largely because it is – well, too formulaic.
Possibly, I’m being a bit contradictory here. But, unless I’m actually reading Erich Segal’s classic Love Story, I don’t want to wallow in the love story. Except, perhaps, if it’s written by Georgette Heyer, Karen King, Kate Blackadder or Tracie Bannister – all authors whose romances I have reviewed and enjoyed in the last 12 months on bookloversbooklist.com. All are great storytellers and, apart from Heyer’s penchant for putting an exclamation mark – or screamer – at the end of every other sentence, all excellent writers.
However, at risk of sounding like one of those snobby readers I condemned in my opening sentences, if I’m going to invest time and energy into engaging with a novel I like one with a little more bite and a little more unpredictability than can normally be found within the pages of the traditional girl-meets-boy romance format. I can perfectly understand the appeal of this sort of pure romantic fiction but, unfortunately, I’m the sort of woman who’d rather have a man who does the washing-up and ironing than one who comes home once a week with red roses and boxes of Milk Tray. (Reader: I married him.)
Guess I’m just too prosaic. Instead, the novels I prefer tend to be those which American writer Rebecca Vnuk describes as stories where ‘a man may be waiting for the heroine at the end of her journey but there is more to the story than the love interest or sexual interest’. In other words, novels where the romance is not the narrative driver. Novels such as Beneath the Skin, a new fantasy from my Lakewater Press stablemate RL Martinez; Mama Day by Gloria Naylor; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Oh, and A Falling Friend, the book I co-authored with my writing partner Susan Pape.
All are complex, multi-layered stories that explore the lives of female protagonists, focusing on all kinds of relationships – with parents, children, friends, colleagues or neighbours as well as lovers and partners. But all with a nourishing soupçon of romance. In other words, stories that reflect my life and those of my women friends and relatives, where the romance in our lives often has to co-exist alongside all the other plates we’re spinning.
Sue Featherstone is a former journalist and public relations practitioner turned academic. Her career started in local newspapers before switching to PR to become internal communications manager with a large utility company. She completed a degree in English Literature as a mature student and subsequently moved into higher education, teaching journalism to undergraduate students at Sheffield Hallam University.
At the beginning of 2017, Sue left Sheffield Hallam to focus on her writing. Together with her friend and writing partner Susan Pape, she has written two successful journalism text books – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction. Their first novel, A Falling Friend, was published by Lakewater Press in 2016 and a sequel will follow in autumn 2017.
Sue has recently had her first short story ‘Growing Pains’ published in Grit, a new compilation of short stories by Yorkshire writers. Grit will be launched at Wakefield Literary Festival on Saturday, September 23, when contributors will be reading from their stories in Wakefield Central Library on Burton Street 11am-1pm. Admission is free and there will be a ten per cent discount off the £10 cover price for anyone attending.
Author / book info
Purchase link: A Falling Friend
Sue and Susan write about books at their website: bookloversbooklist.com
Sue is on Twitter: @SueF_Writer