One of the most phenomenal things about her work is that she never seems to falter, never needs to correct herself – and never fails. She cheerfully admits she cannot spell and that her punctuation could improve, but incidentals such as these are taken care of by a retired Classics master who reads each manuscript before it is finally re-typed for the publisher.
I’m the first to admit my punctuation and grammar isn’t perfect. Having the luxury of a retired classics master to correct all these would be wonderful. However, I’ve worked with many brilliant editors who’ve taught me so much, and who’ve worked with the story I’ve written and ironed out minor errors along the way. I suppose having an editor you work with regularly, across many books, would develop a sort of symbiotic relationship where the editor knows what you tend to do, and you’d know what she would tend to fix in your story, hence allowing you to move on with the next story while the editor did her thing.
Another extraordinary thing about her work is the speed with which she can construct a book. Her theme, as she explains, is traditional. The Cinderella virgin meets and falls in love with her challenging dark hero on the first few pages. Events occur to mar or complicate the course of true love for the next six chapters. But in the seventh, love wins through, the pair are safely married, and we leave them as the joys of licit carnal bliss are just about to start.
[Cartland produced]...six to seven thousand words an afternoon, forty-five thousand words a book – and after seven afternoons with Mrs Elliott behind her, the book is finished and only has to be typed by Mrs Clark whose manuscripts, Barbara says, are the best any publisher or editor ever has seen. ‘I expect, and get perfection,’ she adds.
According to Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ there are only seven different stories in the world, and you can fit a romance into many of the seven. In case you’re interested, the seven are: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth. And to be honest, every romance I’ve read basically follows Cartland’s structure. Does this mean they’re formulaic? Only as formulaic as a crime novel, or an adventure story, or even a more literary piece of fiction – all of which have their own genre conventions and established structures. I’ve written, what can be described as gay fiction (more about the experience of being a gay man, coming out etc, with a romantic thread throughout) as well as gay romance (the main story is the romance, the coupling between two male main characters, after some trials and tribulations, which ends happily) so I can definitely recognise Carland’s structure. I too, can write a book (a first draft unlike what Cartland used to do) in a matter of 15 days as during Nanowrimo and undoubtedly if I was writing full time, with no day job, I could write 15000 – 20000 words a week over a five day working week, hence giving me a Cartland-length novel of 45000 words in 11 days or so. I actually find writing a first draft very quickly much easier than spreading it over many months because I stay with the characters, the plot and keep the characters’ voices in my head without forgetting what has gone before or what should come next.
But after a lifetime writing just this sort of book, Barbara’s skill consists in the endless ingenuity with which she adapts this constant theme to different historical back grounds and events.
I find this very interesting because in Reading the Romance, Janice Radway found that romance readers separated the plot from the setting of the story. ‘A romance is a fantasy, they believe, because it portrays people who are happier and better than real individuals and because events occur as the women wish they would in day-to-day existence.’ Or to explain clearer: ‘Even though the Smithton women [who took part in Radway’s research] know the stories are improbably, they also assume that the world that serves as the backdrop to those stories is exactly congruent with their own….anything the readers learn about the congruence of the two worlds, anything the readers learn about the fictional universe is automatically coded as “fact” or “information” and mentally filed for later use as knowledge applicable to the world of day-to-day existence.’ (Radway p109)
This explains why romance readers happily read books with broadly similar plots (see seven plots point above) with different settings and different characters, again and again. I’ve never written a historical romance because getting the details right terrifies me, and I also worry I’d lose days and weeks and months of research when I’d much rather be writing. Cartland reckoned she read 20-30 non-fiction books to inform the setting of her fiction. I find this slightly unbelievable, unless she read as fast as the speed of light, and didn’t sleep each night, but I have no evidence to the contrary.
What do you think of the assertion that romance stories being similar to one another?
The Guardian Angel, a gay romance where the main character falls in love with his guardian angel, is available now. If you like your romance with lots of twists and turns, to a happy ever after, then I hope you enjoy this story of mine.
What happens when a man falls in love with his guardian angel?
Richard Sullivan is plagued by white feathers turning up at the oddest moments. Amy, his best friend, suggests his guardian angel is trying to contact him, but he dismisses the idea out of hand as nonsense.
Until, that is, he meets Sky. Six feet of muscle in a man skirt with white feather wings.
What exactly is a guardian angel? And what happens when your guardian angel takes leave and sends in a temp to cover? Do you wait for a perfect boyfriend on the off chance you may be able to touch him, to be with him, or do you grab happiness with another human? And, why the hell has Richard’s life suddenly become so complicated?
Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
Until next time,