Saturday, August 15, 2015

Historical Romance – An enduring passion for Melinda Hammond

 Historical romance, I can't get enough of it!  But why?  that's difficult, it's a love affair that started a long time ago....
Think historical romance and perhaps you think of big dresses, even bigger hats(!) and lush plots featured in the older movies. This was probably my first impression of the genre, gleaned from the films shown on British TV when I was a child and still reading Enid Blyton. One such film was the Wicked Lady, starring Margaret Lockwood (seen here in the title role). It was actually made in 1945 but has been shown many times since then – I am not quite that old!)

Historical romance in book form came first with the "classics" we read at school, Jane Austen, The Brontes, Dickens etc. topped up by liberal readings of Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy, amongst others. So what was it about historical fiction that is so enduring? For me, it is another world, one we can never visit, except in our imagination. Wandering around castle ruins and old houses, I can imagine how people lived there and although the basics might be due to the guide books and history books that I have read, the colour and "flesh on the bones" comes from novels. Authors interpret history using their own voice, this gives tremendous scope for different views on the same period, but is it so very different today? We have contemporary writers who write about the modern world in hugely differing ways, from gritty political thrillers to warm, funny romances.
As a child my first historical romances came from the family bookcase, The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel and an author one hears little of these days, Jeffery Farnol. His books are romantic adventures full of action and passion, dashing heroes, spirited heroines and dastardly villains.  I loved them and still have them all in my own bookcase. However, I have to admit I do not re-read them as much as Heyer.

I discovered Georgette Heyer as a young teenager and have been re-reading her books ever since.  They were an escape for me – I could visit a world that was far more glamorous than the inner city where I grew up and escape from the pressures of being a teenager – exams, boys, keeping up with fashion, etc.

Over the years this love of historical romance has endured, so much so that my old copies of Heyer are now so worn I am having to replace them – not with the new glossy paperbacks, but I treat myself occasionally to hardback versions such as this one. 

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, it seemed natural to write historical romance, but being published is only the start of it. In the early 80's, with three books to my name, I was still a relative newcomer facing all the challenges for authors – research, marketing, finding time to write while looking after a young family, staying published - it was then that I met fellow West Country author Jean Saunders. She was a prolific romance writer and she gave me lots of encouragement – including this signed copy of her book, Scarlet Rebel.

It was Jean who told me about the Romantic Novelists Association and encouraged me to join. It was a wise move, for the RNA provides a hugely supportive network for writes of romance in all its forms. Sadly Jean died in 2011 but I know she is remembered fondly by many authors like myself, who found her an inspiration.
 And still the fascination of romantic fiction endures for me. I am so busy writing my historical adventures under the names of Melinda Hammond and Sarah Mallory that I do not have as much time to read as I would like.  Still, I do my best, and there are many great new authors coming along all the time, so there is no shortage of reading material.

What is it you enjoy about historical romance? Do you like adventurous swashbuckling stories or a comedy of manners? I'd love to hear your views.

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory


Yvonne said...

I also grew up with those B&W historical romance films, which fostered my love of historical fiction, as did the books of Georgette Heyer. Nowadays I prefer a good swashbuckling romance story, but can still enjoy a gentler read. It all depends on my mood.

Thank you for bringing Jeffrey Farnol to my attention. I'm sorry to say I'd not heard of this author before, but will be seeking out his novels now.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Jeffrey Farnol! That takes me back a bit. I enjoyed his books when I was about 13-14 but eventually his writing style began to make me wince. It was a bit fey, somehow, and his winsome heroines reminded me of Little Bo-Peep.

Still, he was amazingly popular and I'm sure that we'd all have liked his sales!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thank you for your comments Yvonne and Elizabeth. I think JF was a product of his time while Heyer took the genre forward and made it her own (the Regency part of it, anyway). However, I owe them a large debt.

I still love a swashbuckling romance, Yvonne, and think some of those old B&W films can give modern ones a run for their money!

PS - someone did ask me if I wanted to be the next Georgette Heyer, and I said no, I wanted to be Melinda Hammond. I love GH's writing but my style is different - we all have to find our own literary voice.