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Ten British romance authors you should read…

This isn’t the definitive list, and everyone has their opinion, but here are ten British and Irish authors you should definitely try reading if you love romance.  (I haven’t put Jane Austen or the Brontës on the list, as they’re a given.)

So, here they are, in alphabetical order:

helena fairfax, maeve binchyMaeve Binchy is a best-selling Irish author whose best-known novels include Light a Penny Candle, Echoes, Circle of Friends and Tara Road .  She is a marvellous story-teller, who writes just the way she spoke.  Her friend and fellow author Anne Enright summed up her style when she said that Binchy had ‘an unsurpassed grasp of what makes a good story and that reading her was like being with a good friend.’

R.D. Blackmore is the author of Lorna Doone, a tremendously dramatic and romantic novel, set in the seventeenth century in the wilds of Exmoor.  Lorna Doone pioneered a new romantic movement in literature when it was first published in 1869.  The story concerns the romance between Lorna and John Ridd, a farmer whose ancestor was killed by the Doone clan.  During one of the worst winters in British history, Lorna is cut off by snow for three months in a remote valley on the moors.  Great hero, great heroine and fantastic moorland scenery.

Catherine Cookson was a historical novelist writing about the people and conditions she knew in the north east of England.  She helena fairfax, catherine cooksonmay not have been happy with being labelled a romance author, but many of her novels had a strong romantic element, and they are all strongly rooted in themes of love and compassion.  She was Britain’s top-selling author at the height of her career, and something like a staggering one in three library books withdrawn was a Catherine Cookson.  Her novels are well-written, absorbing, and meticulously researched, with great story lines that translated superbly into television and film.

Elizabeth Gaskell is the author of North and South, one of my favourite novels of all time, with one of my favourite heroes, the fabulous John Thornton.  Her novels mix social critique with great storytelling and dynamic heroines.  Elizabeth Gaskell had a prolific writing career including the novels Cranford, Ruth, Wives and Daughters, a series of ghost stories and a revealing study of Charlotte Brontë, whom she knew.

Georgette Heyer  I’ve written before at length about Georgette Heyer and why I love her.  She was the creator of Regency romances and has yet to find her equal, producing more than forty historical novels, as well as crime novels.  Besides being in my list of top romance authors, Georgette Heyer is in my list of top authors to read of any genre.  Her books are witty, well researched, well plotted, full of a range of characters and delightful to read.

helena fairfax, victoria holtVictoria Holt is Britain’s most popular historical novelist, who also wrote under pseudonyms such as Jean Plaidy, Kathleen Fellow, and others.  She wrote around 200 historical novels and sold in the millions around the world.  Her novels were historically accurate with rich characters and plots, and covered the Normans, Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Georgians and Victorians, as well as historical figures such as Catherine de Medici, Charles II, Katherine of Aragon, Marie Antoinette and Lucrezia Borgia.  Phew.

E.L. James is the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  She’s the author of the fastest selling paperback of all time, and was recently named one of Time magazines top one hundred influential people.  Her books have sold a phenomenal 100 million copies worldwide and helped give erotica a place in mainstream literature, as well as inspiring thousands of spin-offs and parodies.  I’m not a fan of Fifty Shades itself but the trilogy gave a massive boost to the publishing industry at a time it sorely needed it and got millions of people around the world reading and talking about books.  They should be read just to find out what all the fuss was about :)

Penny Jordan   In this moving tribute on the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog Penny Jordan is described as ‘a global star of helena fairfax, penny jordanMills & Boon, not only in Category Romance, but an international best seller when they first ventured into single title, under the Worldwide imprint, with her stunning revenge novel Silver.’  Penny Jordan also wrote historical romances under the name Caroline Courtney and Annie Groves.  The editor who discovered her for Mills and Boon in the slush pile in 1980 described her as “a raw talent – a born storyteller with a unique, intense and passionate voice”.

helena fairfax, charlotte lambCharlotte Lamb wrote 115 novels for Mills and Boon, selling a staggering 100 million copies.  According to this obituary in The Guardian , Charlotte Lamb ‘was fascinated by the darker side of human nature and especially in finding the trigger that would push her characters over the edge. In her Mills & Boon novels she walked a fine line, her heroes … often went to limits other authors never dared approach.’  Charlotte Lamb dealt with then taboo subjects such as rape and child abuse, and was one of the first to create the modern sexually confident, imperfect heroine.  She could also write a whole novel in less than a week.  How I wish I could do the same!

Mary Stewart is the queen of romantic suspense, writing gripping mysteries in which the hero’s personality becomes revealed as the heroine solves the crime.  She’s a superb story-teller and her locations are full of romance in themselves, including Damascus, the Greek Islands, southern France and Spain.  Besides romantic suspense, Mary Stewart also wrote the fabulous Merlin Chronicles series of books, combining fantasy and history.  I found out recently that she was actually Lady Stewart, and not just a mere Mrs – and she’s definitely in the romance aristocracy!  (Do you like what I did there? :) )

What do you think to my list?  How many authors on this list have you read, and did you love them as much as I do?  And who would you choose to go on the list that I haven’t mentioned?  If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear them!






24 thoughts on “Ten British romance authors you should read…

  1. Helena – I stayed up literally all night to finish Light a Penny Candle. Love Mary Stewart – it must be much harder to write romantic suspense now when communications are so different and readers have travelled much more themselves so locations won’t seem so exotic.


    1. Oh I remember reading it too, when it first came out, and loving it! What a great book. And I’ve read and re-read Mary Stewart so many times. There are certain scenes that are so full of suspense they stay in my mind long after. I wonder how she would have written them in this age of GPS and mobiles. She was a great writer and her modern take would have been a gripping read, I bet. So good to meet people who love these books as much as I do :) Thanks for your comment!


  2. I read all of Georgette Heyer’s books and also loved Victoria Holt as her books were so atmospheric and had great covers! Charlotte Lamb was one of my favourite Mills and Boon writers as her books always seemed a little spicier than those of other authors on their books!. I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, even though I have the books, and like the sub genre that she writes in.

    I also remember reading a few books written by Denise Robins which I also enjoyed.


    1. I loved Charlotte Lamb, too, Tina, and nowadays I’m totally in awe of her output. Denise Robins is another great author, and the founder of The Romantic Novelists’ Association. Thanks very much for reminding me of her! I hear they’re releasing all her books in e-format soon, so I’ll definitely be downloading and enjoying. Thanks for your great comment!


  3. Hey, Helena, oh, you’re speaking my language. Cut my teeth on Gerogette Heyer. Must have read a ton of those books. Loved the history and descriptions of dress and society.
    But when you talk Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart! Oh, my, I have such fond memories of being whisked away to other lands and and have clear images in my heads of some of those scenes. Haven’t been back to re-read them (though I did at the time–college and after). I’m afraid I now read with the current expectation of fast story telling. I’d hate to be disappointed, rather just keep the warm fuzzy feeling when I think of those two. I was not happy when Stewart left the romantic suspense genre for the Merlin fantasy stuff. I believe I write RS today because of Holt and Stewart. Thanks for the nice walk down memory lane.


    1. Hi Marsha, I have to admit I do love Mary Stewart’s Merlin books as much as her suspense, and I’m a big fan of the Arthurian legends. That’s brilliant that Holt and Stewart were influences in your writing! They are great role models for writers. So glad you enjoyed a trip down memory lane – and what happy memories! :)


    1. Hi Leona, Good to have another Georgette Heyer fan here! I was thinking of putting Barbara Cartland on this list. She’s probably who most people think of first in the UK when they think of romance writers. I’ve enjoyed some of her books, but she did have some bother with writers accusing her of plagiarism. I don’t know how true that is. It must be hard to keep coming up with different ideas if you write at the absolutely prolific rate Barbara Cartland did. She’s definitely up there as one of the most famous British romance authors of all time. Thanks for coming by and your comment!


  4. I discovered Maeve Binchy last year and have gone through as many of her books as I could. I still am. I love how a lot of her books showcase characters from past books. She’s an amazing author and I love her writing style. :)
    I haven’t heard of the others on your list, but I’ll take a look at them.


    1. Hi Jennifer, I’m so glad to find another Maeve Binchy fan. She has a great style of writing. I hope you like the others on the list. If you do try them, I’d love it if you came back and let me know what you thought. Thanks for coming by and your comment!


  5. Hi :) What a neat idea, creating a list like this. I’d be adding a couple of my modern faves to the list – people like Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella, Catherine Alliott, Jill Mansell . . . (can you tell I love chick lit? LOL)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maggie, those are great choices! I’m just reading Rowan Coleman’s new release The Memory Book, and loving it. I’d add her to a modern list, too. Thanks for coming by, and your great comment!


  6. Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart were my absolute favourite writers in my teens! Really liked Light a Penny Candle and Circle of Friends too.


  7. I must add Patricia Veryan to this list! I love her historical romances, which combine romance with mystery, intrigue, and adventure! Her novels are fabulous. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for that recommendation. I haven’t heard of Patricia Veryan before! That’s exciting to be able to add another author to my list. I’ll check out her books – thank you!


      1. Oh, you are in for a treat! I recommend starting with The Golden Chronicles series. So so good! I believe the first book in the series is called Practice to Deceive.

        Liked by 1 person

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