So, last in series – and we’re coming up-to-date with the 2010s today. Just in case you’ve missed the series, I’ve had a lovely week welcoming RNA authors to look back at their favourite romance reads through the decades in celebration of 60 years of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. On Monday, it was Sheila O’Flanagan looking at the 1960s – then, on Tuesday Sophie Weston chose her favourites from the 1970s. On Wednesday I welcomed Jill Mansell choosing her favourite from the 1980s, on Thursday it was Jeevani Charika and the 1990s, and yesterday Miranda Dickinson on the Noughties. Today, it’s a real pleasure to welcome Julie Cohen…
As a founding member of the RNA Rainbow Chapter for writers of LGBTQ+ romantic fiction, my choice for favourite romantic reads of the 2010s is, of course, going to include queer romantic fiction books by our chapter members. I love the quirky feminism of Clare Ashton (The Goodmans), the shameless romance of Liam Livings (Mistletoe Kisses), the delicious romcoms of Claire Lydon (Made in London), the historical romance of Charlie Cochrane (Awfully Glad). Next on my rainbow reading list is Taking Stock by Ally Lester, and A Convenient Marriage by Jeevani Charika. Honourable mention is Mirror, Mirror by Cara Delavigne, which was ghost written by Rainbow Chapter member Rowan Coleman – a mystery with a wonderful slow-burn f/f romance thrown in.
If I have to pick an absolute favourite piece of queer romantic fiction from the 2010s, though, it’s got to be Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. Heartstopper is a series of YA graphic novels (comic books) telling the love story of two teenage boys, Nick and Charlie. Charlie is sensitive, emotional, and has been bullied relentlessly for being gay—as the series begins he’s just starting to find his feet and his confidence again. Nick, a year older, is a popular rugby player who’s goodhearted and getting a little tired of his boisterous crowd of friends. He also thinks he’s straight, until he starts having feelings for his new friend, Charlie.
The books (there are three volumes so far, with more to come) are a gentle romance as these two young men become more vulnerable to each other and find joy in their mutual growing love and respect. There are issues of gender and sexuality, but also friendship, bullying, mental health, family and community. They’re heartwarming, inclusive and fun—like a warm hug of a story. The art is lively, engaging and whimsical. I share them with my teenage son, and we both devour them and read them over and over again. They’re magical books, and like so many magical things, it’s difficult to say exactly why they’re so special. But I adore them, and I can’t wait for Volume 4.
Thank you Julie – a few books there I’d really like to try. So, what were the books from the 2010s that featured in the poll on the RNA twitter feed?
Well, there was certainly a runaway winner – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – and it was rather wonderful, wasn’t it? I suspect this was the book that introduced many people to the author’s writing, but I really would urge everyone to go back and read some of her earlier books too – I’d particularly recommend The Last Letter from Your Lover (first published in 2008), one of my all-time favourites.
No-one can read every single book (oh, how I wish!) but I sadly haven’t read two of the other choices – The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, or House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick (and Nicola, of course, was the former RNA chair – and particularly welcoming to me on my first visit to the RNA Awards in 2016). And it’s really rather appropriate to be mentioning that night, because it was the year that the fourth book on the list – Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey – won the Romantic Novel of the Year award. It was a delight to be there on the night – and I will admit that whenever anyone asks me “what’s your favourite ever book?”, it’s still the one I almost always name.
You will remember to vote in the polls on the RNA twitter feed, won’t you? Yesterday it was to choose the “winner of winners” from the 60s, 70s and 80s – I haven’t seen today’s yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be for the next three decades.
As this is the last in this series, I’d like to thank all the lovely authors who’ve joined me this week – I’ve had real fun pulling the articles together, and I do hope everyone’s enjoyed the trip down memory lane. And I really must thank the lovely Bella Osborne (and I really should have done this before…!) for doing a lot of the heavy lifting by pulling together the authors’ contributions.
I must also mention the real pleasure and honour it’s been to be the RNA’s Media Star of the Year for 2019 – I’ve now handed over to this year’s well deserved winner, Julie Morris. So I could stop reading romance now, couldn’t I – move across to crime and thrillers, or maybe indulge my literary fiction side a little more? No, it’s really not going to happen – I’ve been in love with romantic fiction for most of the RNA’s sixty years, and that will never ever change.
About Julie Cohen
Julie Cohen grew up in a small town in Maine, USA. After earning a summa cum laude degree with honours in English from Brown University and Cambridge University, Julie moved to the UK to do a research degree in fairies in Victorian children’s literature. As fairies have few practical applications, she got a job teaching secondary school English, joining the RNA and writing in the evenings and holidays.
Three weeks after she gave the first-ever workshop on writing sex scenes at an RNA conference in 2004, she sold her first novel. Since then she has been shortlisted for the Romance Prize once, and for RoNAs three times. Her novel Together won the Contemporary Romantic Novel Award in 2018. She has twice been a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and her novels have been translated into seventeen languages.
Julie has taught creative writing for The Guardian, Literature Wales and Penguin Random House, among others, and is a frequent speaker at RNA events. She runs an oversubscribed writing consultancy and many of her clients have gone on to publication.
(And congratulations to Julie for winning the Romantic Novelists’ Association Inclusion Award 2020 for work to include a diverse range of stories and authors in commercial fiction publishing, awarded for her work with the RNA Rainbow Chapter.)