Mar 7, 2016

How I Started Reading Romance

by Bronwyn Jameson

Do you remember your first?

We're talking romance reading here, just to be clear, and it's a question asked and answered time and again amongst the devoted.  Many -- most? -- readers can recite that first book's title, the author, the year, where they read it, the impression it left and the addiction it started.  You know that old saying, "you never forget your first."

Well, I have forgotten...or perhaps, more accurately, I never took in the title and author but simply fastened onto the words and the story.  I don't even recall my age at the time, but I'm guessing early teens.  My mum bought the Woman's Weekly -- the UK one -- for the recipes and the knitting (and probably the royal/celeb gossip, if they did that back then) and I must have been choking for something to read one weekend and discovered the fiction section.  They used to publish abridged versions of, I think, Mills & Boon.  Definitely classic romance, definitely of the category style, definitely serialised.

I remember the serialised part because of the painfully long wait from week to week to get the next instalment.  I recall calling into the newsagent in the mornings on my way to school to check if the new magazine was in, ahead of my mother in the afternoon.  Because I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!!

Fair to say I was a teensy bit obsessed.

This topic has been on my mind, and turned into this blog post, as I've just completed an online course with Romance Writers of Australia on Branding, with the always-brilliant Nikki Logan.  One of the questions I found enormously difficult to answer: what is unique about YOUR stories?  In mulling this over -- and over and over, from this angle and that perspective -- I went back to the start.

Why did I start writing romance?  Why did I start reading romance?  And, yes, I loved and still love the optimism of these stories, and the female point of view, and the treatment of real, true, genuine family/human problems, the emotional highs and lows, and the happy endings brought about by character growth and change.

But I also loved and still love the armchair journey into another world.  As a 13 year old girl who'd never been further from the farm than an occasional South Coast family holiday, every book-world was exotic and exciting. A quaintly-named Cotswold village, the Australian outback, a penthouse overlooking Sydney Harbour, a Texan ranch,  a New Zealand hunting lodge, a Scottish castle, a villa in the south of France...  

These were the worlds I visited through my early romance reading and, I realised, my love of armchair travel has carried through to my writing.  Each time I start a new story I take off to a new place and experience that world through the eyes of my characters.  I trust I am also taking my readers along on the journey to a new and wonderful place.

Do you remember when you first started reading romance?  What did you love most about the stories at that time in your life?


30 comments:

  1. I started reading romances in Grade 9 - 1972/1973. The man across the street used to read them every night on his porch. He knew that I read every book imaginable and let me read one of his - and I was (obviously) hooked. Just like then, I still read them for their HEAs, but I also enjoy the lead-up to those HEAs. Sometimes I laugh out loud; sometimes I cry.
    I have read over 250 books every year since 1973 but will admit that perhaps 5 times during all that time, I have NOT finished some books. In the seventies, some romances did not have an HEA (can you believe it?). The books that really annoyed me have been tossed across the room in a fit of anger. I don't finish them and I don't pass them on to others. I just skip the middle part and read the ending (and usually don't enjoy that either). Doing the math, that means that I have read over 4,000 books, so not finishing about 5 of those isn't a bad percentage. Today I get my HEAs AND I have sweet dreams. Now THAT is sweet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, Laney, that is a LOT of armchair travel but I can tell you've enjoyed most of those trips. ;-) I haven't counted my reads but I know it's nowhere near as many as you over a similar time period.

      I also love the lead-up to the HEAs -- you know they will get there, but you still worry about how it can all come together and how much angst they (and you!) will go through before they get there.

      Sweet dreams, Laney.

      Delete
  2. I Bronwyn

    Great topic :) I also read the romances from the magazines and and you could also get comic type little romances I think they were from Womans Day and there were Womans Weekly littls ones as well and there was True Love magazine all this while I was in ther early years of high school then after I started work my Mum gave me Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers and I was totally lost to romance forever LOL

    Have Fun
    Helen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh, I don't remember the comic ones. How did I miss these? I love the Japanese Manga interpretations of M & Bs and am sure I'd have loved these classics as well.

      "Totally lost to romance forever." Well played, Helen's Mum. ;-)

      Delete
  3. I couldn't tell you the exact year that I started reading romance, but I do know that the first story I read was Carly Phillips' The Heartbreaker. It was relatively newly published at the time. I swear that it was the hot pink cover that caught my eye/
    Thinking back I read Elda Minger's The Dare not long after that - a title I've wanted to re-read a time or two but have yet to find a copy to purchase short of going to the second-hand purchases on Amazon.
    I'm scratching my head to recall what I loved about the stories then, but I suspect it was the same thing I still love today - the HEAs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lyn, I remember that cover. It was an eye-catcher, that's f'sure.

      I don't remember Elda Minger though and now feel inclined to check her out. Don't you hate when you can't find a copy of an old favourite that you're longing to re-read?

      Delete
  4. Goodness, I don't think I remember my first but vaguely, it was some Historical Mills and Boons, followed by some Johanna Lindsay with some Barbara Cartland thrown in for good measure. It was such a long time ago, probably in my mid to late teens. I want to say, more likely late teens for pure romance. Prior to that it was mostly fantasy and science fiction to the likes to David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey and J R R Tolkein, who all had some elements of romance in them though not strictly romance stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deanna, I progressed from the M&B serials (plus any actual M&Bs I could find at our local op shop) to Barbara Cartland in my mid-teens and then graduated to Johanna Lindsay. I still have a real fondness for her books and re-read my favourites every few years. A real comfort indulgence, they are.

      Delete
    2. Bronwyn, I adore Johanna Lindsay and still get very nostalgic over her. I read pretty much everything of hers I could get my hands on and fortunately, the library I went to carried a lot of her books. Pirates, Vikings, Cowboys, you name it, she had it. Although, I have to say, I have a special fondness for her Mallory series. I think that was what started me on my love affair with all things Regency.

      As for Barbara Cartland, the hopeless romantic in me even loved the hokey movies they made of some of her books. Did you ever see the one which starred a very young Hugh Grant?

      Delete
    3. A Barbara Cartland movie? With Hugh Grant?? HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS???

      As for Johanna Lindsay, I think one of her greatest attributes was the mix-up in settings. You could glom a couple of westerns and for a change of scenery pick up a medieval next, then a pirate, then go on a regency jag. While still getting all her delicious OTT storylines. She really is one of a kind.

      Delete
    4. I saw this gorgeous movie ("The Lady & the Highwayman") as a child - never realised/remembered it was Hugh Grant until I looked it up just now (with the same shock that Bron demonstrated). Hazard of Hearts was the best screen BC though, still my fave over L&tH.

      Delete
    5. You can watch the entire movie on YouTube if you search it. Someone has kindly uploaded it and chopped it into 4 parts. I might do a rewatch. Hugh Grant's hair in that movie though!! :-O

      Isn't A Hazard of Hearts the one that starred a young Helena Bonham Carter? I think that was where I saw her first.

      I admit to being a Barbara Cartland tragic. I've watched most of the movies.

      Delete
    6. Okay, I'm totally going to watch this! Thanks so much for the heads-up Deanna and Cheryse for the title.

      Off to check these out right now (because I can!)

      Delete
    7. Do let us know how you get on with Hugh. :-) I'm doing a little re-watch myself now too.

      Delete
  5. I don't remember my first either, but I do remember the first on of yours I read, Bronwyn. You create such wonderful stories - I love them.

    One of my favourite part of writing is creating the world in which my characters inhabit and travelling with them for a time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jen, I was thinking of you as I wrote this post as I recognise the similarity. You take the reader into the fabulous, glamorous worlds your characters inhabit and they're authentic.

      Delete
  6. I wish I could remember my first, all I know is that it was a Mills & Boon where the hero and heroine were trapped in a cabin during a storm and I probably would have been about 12 or 13 at the time. I graduated onto Jackie Collins books (probably earlier than I should have) , Danielle Steele and VC Andrews because that's what my Mum read - so not exactly romance, but they had some uh... 'romantic elements' ;)

    I actually didn't come back to romance books until I decided to write one, back in 2012. Then I totally fell in love with the genre and have spent the last 4 years playing catch up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you still love the snowbound trope, Stephanie? I reckon it's one of the best when done well, all that simmering tension with no respite. Yum.

      Lol at the quotes around romantic elements after VC Andrews.

      Delete
    2. I do! I think it's a tough trope to do well, but I love that forced proximity to the strongest degree.

      LOL yes, VC Andrews books were quite taboo back in the day. I'm not sure why my mum was okay with me reading them in hindsight haha.

      Delete
  7. Hi Bronwyn - the first romances I ever read (besides Anne of Green Gables, which will always be a romance to me) was a book from kiwi author Robyn Donald called Bride at Whangatapu (which I believe was her debut book) which was a forced marriage book with a super sexy hero called Logan (I was eleven and was swept off my pre-teen feet) and the other was called The Winds of Enchantment by Rosalind Brett about a rubber plantation owner in Africa called Nick...I loved both these M & B classics and am forever grateful they were on my oldest sisters bookshelf when my mother took me for a visit. I've been reading them ever since. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They both sound wonderful to this armchair traveller, Helen. There used to be quite a few set in Africa and I always loved those. So different!

      Have you revisited those two books, Helen? Are they (Logan and Nick) still wonderful?

      Delete
  8. Hey Bron!
    I was 12 when I first started reading my mum's M&B's. I don't remember what the first book was but I was hooked! My mum only read the "red" books so I glommed a lot of Ann Mather, Carole Mortimer, Charlotte Lamb and Penny Jordan. Also Emma Darcy and Miranda Lee. I clearly remember reading my first Jenny Cruise - Getting Rid of Bradley - in my mid twenties. I remember it specifically because it was so different to the English HMB's that had, til that point, been all I'd read in the romance department. What an eye opener! I knew then and there that I wanted to write in that kind of style!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very similar authors to those I remember reading, AA, but obviously I was much older when reading them. :-) I remember reading my first Crusie and having my socks blown off as well but that was after I'd started writing.

      But, in a similar way, I recall the first Desire I ever read. It was by Justine Dare/Davis and featured a single dad (a straight-laced accountant) of a horse-mad kid and the heroine was her riding instructor and a Native American. Total catnip to me and I wanted to write that kind of story as well! If only I could write them as well as JD I would be the happiest of vegemites.

      Delete
  9. Bronwyn, I just LOVED this post of 'first times' and 'armchair travel'. Thank you for sharing and reviving so many of our cherished memories. I was 11 and no books left in the house to read save my mum's stash of romances on her bedside table. The first I discovered was a LoveSwept entitled "Bargain with the Devil" and, wow, did this shy, naive girl suddenly get educated - and fell in love with romance novels forever. Emma Darcy, Miranda Lee and Penny Jordan were firm faves of that era. I can't part with these old favourites any more than I can part with my fave spec fic authors of my teens (read in tandem with my romances :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Cheryse. It is a favourite topic which I'm sure I revive every few years because who doesn't love remembering how we started down this wonderful road.

      I have collections of Emma Darcy, Miranda Lee and Susan Napier M&Bs which I could not part with as well as the Lucy Walkers (a selection of which are in the picture) which I bought through eBay. I had a nostalgic yen to reread some of those favourites from way, way back.

      Delete
  10. Bron! Snap on the English Woman's Weekly! It always had the best knitting patterns too but oh, those marvellous serialised romances! But the agony of having to wait a WHOLE week to find out what happened next! I remember Mary Burchell's Warrander romances - I wanted to be an as-yet-undiscovered singing talent. Alas no-one discovered me - just as well since I can't hold a tune in a bucket!

    I know what you mean about the armchair travel too - I wanted to be a governess on an Outback station courtesy of the wonderful Lucy Walker! Or travel intrepidly through Asia with Anna Weale's books. This is such a lovely walk down memory lane! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SNAP right back at you. I was going to be a governess, totally, working for a tall, dark enigmatic man named Masters. Funny thing is, that reading these back they are not nearly as romantic as I thought I remembered. In terms of: smoking heroes, the outback isn't depicted as glamorously as in the M&Bs (grantedly, the ones I remember are from a decade or three later), and the heroines really had their mettle tested. Still wonderful to read, but really romance in another era. Yet as a young teen, I thought them frightfully romantic.

      Delete
  11. What a fun post, Bron! Do you remember those little Woman's Weekly paperbacks -- they were thinner and flimsier than a Mills & Boon? I read one of those on my summer holiday when I was ten (it was my mum's and I already gotten through my own stash of holiday reading). I can't remember much about it...except it was a Doctor/Nurse romance. :-) When I was a couple of years older I started sneaking off with her Red Mills & Boons. Sally Wentworth was a particular favourite -- I remember reading Echoes of the Past and being utterly outraged (and secretly thrilled) by the hero -- he was utterly awful (in the best possible way) and misjudged the poor heroine so badly. I must read it again. I expect it'll prove to be totally scandalous. ;-)

    ReplyDelete