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:
Maeve 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 may 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Britain’s top-selling author at the height of her career, and something like a staggering one in three library books withdrawn was a Catherine Cookson.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.
Victoria 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 Mills & 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”.
Charlotte 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!