Two weeks ago I wrote, with some trepidation, about my slightly difficult relationship with reading now that I’m a writer. I have to say I was really pleased by the positive comments I received from other authors feel the same – I certainly don’t feel so much of a freak. But nevertheless I made a decision: this month I’m not going to write – I’m going to read.
I have, however, imposed a basic rule: the books I choose have to be in my genre – contemporary romance. Of course this exercise is for pleasure but it’s also research into how other writers and their publishers achieve excellence. So, what have I been reading? And what have I learnt?
The Girl on the Beach by Morton S Gray (Choclit)
You simply can’t be a romance author and ignore Choclit. They have such a huge presence in the market it felt irresponsible not to have read anything they’ve published. I decided to start putting that right with The Girl on the Beach because it was a mystery as well as a love story so right up my street.
It was completely different to my own books in that much of the intrigue was fairly obvious and initially I wondered how it was going to hold my attention. But it did – largely because of the wonderful characters; I cared about Ellie and as with every great romance, even fell for Harry just a little bit myself. The writing was crisp and unpretentious and I found it hard to put this book down. It re-enforced my belief that well written mainstream romance will never die.
Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley (Quercus)
I have been a big fan of Ley’s for some years and was delighted when she provided me with some lovely cover quotes for Another You. Last Dance in Havana flips between Bristol (which I know) and Havana (which I don’t) and tells the story of a step-daughter’s and step-mother’s searches for love. Ley’s descriptions brought both places to life to the point I could feel the Cuban sun on my back but it was her superb characterisation that made the book for me. In particular Rosa, the older woman, will remain in my head and heart for a very long time.
Writing as well as Rosanna Ley takes years of experience but thinking about this book (and her others) they show me that with a good story, great characters and an amazing sense of place you don’t need gimmicks to write a first class commercial romance.
Sealskin by Su Bristow (Orenda Press)
Sealskin is the book everyone is talking about at the moment. It’s a re-telling of a Scottish legend about the selkies, seals which can turn into people, and is a fairly short but thought-provoking read. I was completely transported to a remote Scottish fishing village and one of the really clever things about the book is its timelessness – there isn’t a clue about when the story takes place and it actually doesn’t matter. It’s a multi-layered romance which sits equally well in the realms of literary fiction which is where its publisher’s interests lie.
It’s also been marketed incredibly well by Orenda and I’m delighted that the dynamo behind this amazing independent publishing house, Karen Sullivan, will guest on this column in April. In the meantime I’m trying to work out what I would need to do before I’d even consider sending a manuscript to them. Although I can recognise literary fiction when I see it, how to create it is another matter entirely. Definitely something to aim for, though.