Welcome to the second in my series of articles where RNA authors look back at their favourite romance reads through the decades to celebrate 60 years of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Today it’s the 70s – and I’m delighted to welcome Sophie Weston remembering some of her personal favourites.
Did you vote for your favourite book of the 70s in Sunday’s poll on the RNA twitter feed? Another Mary Stewart (Touch Not The Cat), and The Princess Bride by William Goldman (which I’ve never actually read…), but I was really torn between Erich Segal’s Love Story (goodness, I’m in tears just thinking about it!) and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (and I must dig out my DVD of the TV series… I really was in love with Ralph de Bricassart… or was it Richard Chamberlain?). It was The Thorn Birds that won my personal vote – and, as it won in Sunday’s poll, I see many others agreed.
Let’s see which 70s books Sophie has chosen…
In the 1970s sex invaded romantic fiction. And, like so much, it started in the USA. Onto the best seller lists came first hot historicals aka bodice rippers, in the shape of The Flame and the Flower (1972) by Kathleen E Woodiwiss. It was followed by sex and shopping in Scruples (1978) by Judith Krantz. Both books were the size of a couple of bricks. They had many imitators.
My personal picks from the decade, though, all happen to be British and the sex is in the subtext. But it simmers like crazy in every one. At least, I think so.
Mills & Boon was edging towards sex-on-the-page over the 70s – and achieved it in the fabulous Flame of Diablo by Sara Craven in 1979 – but the M&B I want to commend to you here is Sullivan’s Reef (1971) by Anne Weale. Daringly this is a novel which starts with a gigantic slug of looking-back-into-the-past.
And what a story it is! There’s jungle, a deserted island, a haunted house almost hidden by encroaching vines, dark family secrets, love denied, rejection and despair. Oh, and a fantastically attractive hero, with a past cloaked in mystery. The heroine, like Jane Eyre, is young but perceptive and heartbreakingly honest. An absolute cracker of an escapist read.
Award Winning Cool Historical
More Gothic mystery, and exotic location, this time Tibet – my second choice is Merlin’s Keep by Madeleine Brent. The heroine goes from truth-telling mixed race orphan in the Himalayas to a composed resident of an English country house. The plot is all adventure and mystery with a dash of the occult. A hero of quiet endurance and an energetic and not always wise heroine, this is compelling stuff. Rudyard Kipling meets Daphne du Maurier, only with a happy ending.
It well deserved the RNA’s award of Romantic Novel of the Year in 1978. Though the author mysteriously failed to turn up to receive her award at the ceremony. Her publisher accepted in her stead, claiming she was in Mexico and that plot story had been inspired by a relative who had been with Younghusband in Tibet. Many years later it emerged that she was Peter O’Donnell of Modesty Blaise fame. Publisher, agent and author kept the secret pretty much until his death, I think.
Csardas (1975) by Diane Pearson is one of my all time favourite novels. Set in Hungary, runs from the Austro-Hungarian belle époque when two rich sisters are going to ball, through world wars, defeat, deprivation, enmity, betrayal, and the tribulations of the next generation. It is a saga embracing twentieth century issues as well as the timeless questions of family, truth and loyalties.
I include it as a favourite because stories are often defined by their endings. And this one ends at a moment of peace and harmony, with the unexpected action of the man who has become the story’s hero, against all the odds. The final scene is an absolute tear-jerker and yet so hopeful.
It was republished a couple of years ago Head of Zeus, and is available on Kindle. If you need a big story about endurance and love to get you through lockdown, this is surely it.
Sophie, thank you – and I just couldn’t resist downloading Csardas! Join me again tomorrow when Jill Mansell remembers her favourites from the 80s…
About Sophie Weston
Sophie writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. At the last count she was published in 26 languages – and manga!
A lifelong writer, her first book was published after a bout of mystery illness kicked her into submitting a mss to an agent. She loves the unequivocal happy ending that you are allowed in HMB but her characters have to fight their way through the difficulties of very twenty-first century relationships to get there, like the workaholic international negotiator hero of The Englishman’s Bride.
She travels widely and lives in London.
A former Chairman of the RNA, under her real name Jenny Haddon, she was also previously Treasurer.
The Bedroom Assignment was short listed for the Love Story of the Year.
This year, Sophie was also one of the authors behind Libertà Books‘ first beach holiday anthology, Beach Hut Surprise: you’ll find my special feature, a lovely conversation between a few of the hivies, here.