I believe that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be an author if you don’t read – authors of non-fiction can possibly get away with it, but to be able to write fiction you need to read, read and read more. I read a lot.
My reading is by no means confined to romances. In fact many of my favourite authors write in very different genres. I am a big Terry Pratchett fan and have read all his Discworld books, although I am not really into fantasy in general. I read a lot of detective stories, thrillers and mysteries. I started very young with Agatha Christie and have read many older detective stories by Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler… The list goes on and on. Nowadays I love books by Kathy Reichs (I used to be a Patricia Cornwall fan, but in recent years I have found her writing has lost its edge), John Connolly, Simon Kernick, Karen Rose, Simon Beckett, Jo Nesbo, Peter James, Tina French and many more. Harlan Coben has written some very good books, although I wouldn’t recommend trying the re-issues of his first couple which I found deeply disappointing.
I’ve read many of the classics and of course Pride and Prejudice is the best romance of all time. I like to try different authors and discovered the wonderful Hilary Mantel when Wolf Hall was short-listed for the Booker Prize. I read it in one day! It is a thick book (I’m a fast reader anyway and find short books are over too fast, although I am guilty of having written short books) but I was in hospital at the time and had nothing better to do. I’m looking forward to reading Bring up the Bodies. One of the major problems of living outside the UK is that I don’t have access to a library, and buying new books from Amazon can be expensive when you take into account the fact that buying one book is not always economical because of the postage. So I have to limit my book buying and often buy second-hand through the Amazon Market Place.
So who are my favourite writers of romance and the genres that are closer to my own writing, Jane Austen aside? Well, I really enjoy Jill Mansell’s books. Then Katie Fforde writes a lot of good stuff, and Judy Astley, though I wouldn’t call her specifically a writer of romances, writes extremely well and can often make me laugh out loud. Going a long way back in time, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is well worth a read and Fanny (Frances) Burney’s Evelina obviously influenced Jane Austen. Both the latter were written in epistolary form (i.e. all as letters) which was very much the style of the time. But the classic romantic novel comes from those roots. Let’s face it, if you read romance you expect certain things: girl meets boy; problems occur either from the start or later; girl and boy get together; misunderstandings happen and they fall out; girl and boy reconcile; happy ending. Now the modern romantic novel has many variations on this theme, but if you read a romance and don’t have a happy ending to look forward to, it doesn’t fit the genre, does it?