Monday, 8 December 2014

In Defence of Historical Romance

Last week I posted about some books which, while well written and definitely a good choice for some people, really didn't appeal to me because of the genre they were written in. One of them was Crosscurrents by Jane Jackson. I actually wanted to be nice about this book because it is well written and well researched and does have a lot of enthusiastic readers. But I was, undoubtedly, a bit snide about Historical Romance, because I just struggle to read books in that genre. Jane has, quite rightly, taken me to task for this. We shouldn't dismiss any genre out of hand (and Jane listed some of her favourites and she certainly practices what she preaches). So I'm very happy to have her guesting on my blog this week about why we should give her genre the respect it is due.

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On Monday 1st December Tom posted a cover image of my book ‘Crosscurrents,’ a historical romance he’d read and reviewed even though he doesn’t like the genre.  (At least he managed to finish it. The other two authors were abandoned.)

I fully accept that taste in books - as in everything else - is very much a personal matter.    But what snagged like a thorn about Tom’s review – and he has generously offered me this opportunity to respond - is the patronising manner men adopt – perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not - when reviewing historical romance. 

(If men asked their lovers, wives, partners, why they enjoy reading romance, historical or contemporary, and took on board the answers, might there be more contented women and fewer frustrated men? Just saying.)

Back to the review:  Those of us who spend months researching the period in which our stories are set, studying the social customs of the day, wars, politics, ship accommodation and sail plans, the effects of wind speed on sea conditions, details of dress, household hierarchy, coach travel, small arms, gaming houses etc, might be forgiven a sigh when reading a review that focuses on clich├ęd stereotypes such as: bosom-heaving, calf-turning, suitable for granny. Oh please!    (Though to give credit where it’s due, he did say it was well-written.)

But more irksome were errors in the review. 
For the record:  1. The new type of engine featured in the story is not powered by steam, but by hot air. This is revolutionary and an attempt to develop a safe alternative because exploding high-pressure steam boilers are causing hundreds of deaths. 
2. There are two couples in this story, and the review wrongly links the girl from one with the man from the other.

All that aside, Tom does have a point regarding a section of the historical romance genre.  On-line publishing means that anyone can write a book, source a cover image and ISBN number then upload their work for sale without any of the screens and checks imposed by publishing companies, such as editing for factual accuracy, anachronisms, etc. 

Professional self-published authors use beta-readers, employ a qualified and experienced freelance editor, pay for an individually designed cover, and go to great lengths to ensure their book is the best it can be before publication. A far greater number don’t.

So books marketed under the heading of ‘historical romance’ range from stories by authors who try to create a realistic setting for their characters, to those featuring situations that in real life could not have happened: marquises marrying servant girls, dukes renouncing their inheritance for love. 

Such books reveal the author’s lack of (research?) understanding of a class system in which breaking the rules resulted in losing your place in society; being shunned by family and friends; and for a married mother the likelihood of being permanently separated from her children.  They are contemporary attitudes in fancy dress.  That an avid readership exists for these books says much for the enduring power of the ‘Cinderella’ story.  But it may also explain the perception of historical romance as ‘fiction lite’ compared to crime or mystery or suspense genres. Yet I have used all those elements to great effect in historically accurate stories that also feature a powerful romance. (And have been short listed three times for major awards) 

With 28 books published in multiple languages worldwide, 13 of which are historical romances, I am proud that they appeal both sexes and all ages. Yes, the majority of readers are women because more women read for pleasure. One chap I know buys each new one for his wife for her birthday or Christmas, but he reads it first. I’m not sure how she feels about that.  He told me he always gets lost in the story, not wanting to put it down yet not wanting it to end.  

Feedback shows that women enjoy the depth and complexity of the love story evolving between people who are the product of their background and upbringing and events that have shaped their lives and personalities. Men identify with the male characters’ problems and struggles set against the historically accurate background. In ‘Crosscurrents’ this involves brewing, development of a revolutionary engine to power a ship, revelation of shocking family secrets and the gritty reality of early C19th life in the port of Falmouth.  

Why not try it for yourself? Or give a copy as a gift?


Crosscurrents by Jane Jackson, published by Accent Press as an ebook and paperback.  Available on Amazon or at any independent bookseller.

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