Now for some romance before it gets dark!

Last week several authors linked to this blog post, which primarily moans about sequelitis in the world of romantic fiction, and especially that aimed at younger readers. At least, I think so. Mercifully I have not read them, but I can imagine what they are like. Or perhaps I can’t.

The thing is, the post was written by a fan of this type of book before publishers lost all sense of proportion.

Now, I grew up on plenty of romance of the fictional kind. I was actually under the impression that I was awfully grown-up when tackling Barbara Cartland, who was perpetually serialised in the weekly magazine I liked so much that I spent my pocket money buying it, until Mother-of-witch gave up and paid.

I saw the light – eventually – and moved on to Alistair MacLean and other mature books.

In my brief course on children’s literature at university we were ordered to read two unexpected books alongside Anne of Green Gables and other worthies. One had to be a cheap romance, and the other an action story like Nick Carter. The reason being that children, or young adults (long before the term was invented), were reading them. Ergo, they counted as children’s books.

And now we have vampires.

The cheap action type novel has plenty of modern alternatives. And I suppose Twilight & Co are better than my old Barbara Cartlands? Miss Cartland reputedly spent all of two weeks on every book she ‘wrote’, and whatever your opinion of Stephenie Meyer, she must have worked somewhat harder on her writing.

Dark romance

I suspect young girls are hardwired to want romance at some point in their early reading lives. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as the romance is allowed to end and the readers move on to new things. That’s where it might be worse now, because vampire novels and similar books look so much like real books. Mills & Boons look exactly as what they are. Cheap romance. Some of them pretty good. Some not.

Now publishers are milking the black and red covered cash cow. Endlessly. I want to sit down and cry when previously sensible publishers bring out their own Twilight.  I could almost accept it, if it weren’t the case that these Twilights are squeezing out real books. Not all of them, but there are many excellent books that never get published, or that sell so badly that they don’t stand a chance in the shadow of romance.

There is good YA romance. Recent examples that come to mind are Mary Hoffman, Celia Rees and Gillian Philip, who all write real, and romantic, novels. It’s not my intention to come up with a long list here. I just want to say that there is choice.

We had very little of that in the 1970s. Cartland and M&B on one side and Jane Eyre & Co on the other. Although, in my late teens I did find a couple of authors who were capable of writing light but intelligent romance with death and excitement on the side. M M Kaye and Mary Stewart were both authors I inherited from nearby adults. And unlike the cheap stuff, I still remember them well.

9 responses to “Now for some romance before it gets dark!

  1. Vampire books *are* Mills & Boon for teens, aren’t they? And no reason why they shouldn’t exist, but I agree there’s a proportion that just isn’t being respected. Loved Mary Stewart. Also Mary Renault. Also Anya Seton. And Dorothy Dunnett (not light, but super romantic).

  2. On the one hand, I suppose it’s a business and you gotta do what you gotta do to make big bucks. But you are so right that the infinite variety out there get pushed off the shelves. As for Mills & Boone, I loved them as a teenager, some of my favourites occupy space in my memory bank, and dare I say have influenced my writing. Every book has its place in moderation.

  3. If you knew how many romances I’ve read in my time, you’d lose any remaining respect you might still have for me. But as with the ozone layer which has been damaged by our actions, I’d rather not that the vampire romances kills off real books. Maybe they won’t, but I only know of one publisher who’s not tried the cursed angel vampire love thing.

  4. Hilary McKay

    Well, heaven save me from the hard cold world of the Book Lantern (what’s a book lantern anyway, very ambiguous description, are we talking illuminaton or burning?)
    I agree that the vampire books are a bore (at least their covers are- I’ve only ever read 1/2 of one) but they are also a phase. Which will pass.
    Paper recycles quite efficiently. A comforting thought.

    Bring on the next Jilly Cooper, that’s what I say!

  5. When reading her recent Guardian interview I found to my surprise that Jackie Collins sounded a lot more fun than I had previously imagined. You live and learn.

    Hilary, was that you last night, with the shovel and all those vampire novels, on the M6?

  6. Hilary McKay

    Yes, that was me and what were you thinking of, driving past? Why no interview? Where was the photographer? It’s not all glam signings and teacakes, you know. You could have done a fantastic article on The Other Dark Side of children’s literature if only you’d thought.
    Reproachfully yours,
    Shovel woman.

  7. Ah, it’s a long while since I’ve heard mention of Mary Stewart, big on my list as a teenager, alongside Jean Plaidy, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth Goudge and Mary Renault – (and Alistair MacLean too) thanks BW!

  8. Ah the “dark romance” section of the bookstore! Every time I go to the bookstore, I look at that section and groan. I have tried to read them by the way, I’m not just presuming they’re terrible. But frankly, after reading the first half of Twilight, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read a vampire romance ever again, I shudder at the sight of those red, white and black covers!!!!
    As for ” young girls are hardwired to want romance at some point in their early reading lives”, I never have and I doubt I’ll end up being a hard-core romance fan. The closest I come to enjoying a romance novel, is Tanith Lee’s “Piraticia”, which even then, only had a small bit of romance in it, as opposed to the pirates. Though, I did enjoy reading Mary Hoffman, but the romance factor wasn’t too promenent in that.

  9. Oh Me!!!!, I knew there was a reason I love you! ; ) But not all young people are like you. Or your time is still to come.

    Oh Linda, we must be sisters! There will be more Mary Stewart here. I was just setting the stage.

    Oh Hilary, make me scones and I’ll interview you like a shot! Photos are so hard to do in the middle of the night. We could fake some digging, if you like?

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