Wednesday, 26 August 2020

The evolution of romantic suspense


If you speak to a UK writer of romance about the things that have inspired or influenced them, it's likely that the name Mary Stewart will be mentioned. Writing just after the Second World War, her books were the original romantic suspense - an independent heroine having sometimes alarming adventures in glamorous locations, with a complex hero involved in the action. Sound familiar? Yep, that's where I began.

There was considerable excitement therefore in the romantic community at the news that her first best seller, Madam Will You Talk, would be broadcast on BBC Radio. The first part was last Sunday, the second this coming one. If you missed it and would like to investigate, it's available on catch up HERE

It's difficult to  imagine the impact the books must have had in post war Britain. Escapism in its very essence. Locations that most people could only dream about visiting, warm weather, beautiful, often historic surroundings,  food and drink that still rationed Britons could only read about. And yes again, I'm still channeling all that too.

And then the heroine and hero. Her heroines are very modern women - they would be so now, but they must have been fantastic role models in the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the books first appeared.  They travel, often alone, they drive fast cars - Madam Will You Talk involves a car chase across Provence. They drink alcohol and smoke - more problematic now, but then a mark of modernity and independence. They get themselves into difficult situations and are not afraid to take risks. And they are open to the possibility of love.

Heroes are slightly more ambiguous. The books are written from the heroine's point of view, so often it's not so easy to gauge where the guy is coming from, and sometimes it is not entirely clear initially whether he is hero or villain, but they are always strong, capable and intriguing.

We've moved on a bit. I love the fact that I can write from the  male point of view, so you do know what he is thinking  and his vulnerabilities, underneath all that macho stuff.  Modern romantic suspense can be a bit more violent, and gruesome, on occasion.  My own body count can sometimes get to Jacobean proportions. These days the reader also goes beyond the bedroom door, but the originals still have their undercurrent of romantic tension.

I loved those books, and I know how much they have inspired me. Romance and mayhem, my kind of read.



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