Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is credited with being the very first author to try and make a living from his writing alone.

Born on 19th January, 1809 in Boston, USA, Edgar was the son of two actors. They both died before he was three years old, so he was raised by his godfather, John Allan. Poe was taken from Richmond in America to Scotland and England (1815–20) to receive a classical education. This education continued back in America, where he attended the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, once there Poe became a gambler and an alcoholic. His godfather was furious with him for running up huge debts, and refused to continue to fund his gambling losses at the university. Poe returned to Richmond and began to write the poetry for which he has become famous.

The Academy of American Poets states that “Poe’s work as an editor, a poet, and a critic had a profound impact on American and international literature…. Many anthologies credit him as the “architect” of the modern short story.”

In 1827, like so many modern authors, Poe self-published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, but Poe’s life remained troubled, and he was struggling with poverty. His dire circumstances forced him to join the army, under the name Edgar A. Perry. He stayed in the army until his foster mother died. Then, in an attempt to improve Poe’s prospects, John Allan purchased his release from the army and helped him get an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

During his time in the services Poe continued to write. In 1829 he published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. He hated military service and deliberately got himself expelled before taking a job. His drinking and ill health meant he didn’t hold this down for long.

Poe’s only driving force was his need to write. Although his work didn’t bring him wealth in his lifetime, his legacy has been to provide us with some of the most influential pieces of literature ever produced. Influenced by the tragedies of his own life, including his poor health and the death of his wife, much of Poe’s best work is concerned with terror and sadness. A spokesman for the Poe Museum in Richmond, UA said “Most famously, Poe completely transformed the genre of the horror story with his masterful tales of psychological depth and insight not envisioned in the genre before his time and scarcely seen in it since.”

As well as his more recognised tales of horror, such as The Raven, in 1841 Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This was the very first published detective story; a literary innovation which earned him the nickname “Father of the Detective Story.” His concept of deductive reasoning and ratiocination inspired countless authors, most famous among them Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In 1843 Poe expanded his genre even further, when he wrote The Gold Bug, a suspense full of secret codes and hunting treasure. This won him a literary prize. Edgar Allan Poe died penniless after a lifetime of ill health on 7th October, 1849 in Maryland, USA. His gift to modern literature comes not only in the form of the excellence of his poetry and prose, but in how he highlighted the importance of stylistic focus and literary structure. His work marked the first time style and plot layout were publicly considered as much as the plot-line itself. By putting his work before his income, Poe became a forerunner of the French Symbolist movement, claiming that there should be an “art for art’s sake” movement and inspiring men such as Mallarmé and Rimbaud.

Today, Poe is remembered as one of world literature’s major historical figures. The Raven, amongst other works, is consistently cited as amongst the best of its genre, and he continues to influence modern day writers, television producers and film directors such as Stephen King and Neil Gaimen.

Born on 15th September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (later to become Lady Mallowan, and a Dame) wrote a number of romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, but it is her murder mysteries, particularly involving Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, for which she will always be remembered.

As The Independent newspaper once reported, Christie’s work is “…synonymous with the country house mystery, the landed gentry and Jazz Age good-time boys and girls whose ordered, privileged world is suddenly thrown into disarray by the fly in the ointment of a rather awkward corpse found in the library, or on the croquet lawn.”

If you ask her legions of fans why her work remains as popular today (famously including the long running theatre production of The Mousetrap in London, pictured above) as it was when first written between the 1920’s and 1960’s, you’ll get a variety of answers. For some it is the nostalgia of the work. Mark Aldridge, author of Agatha Christie on Screen, explains, “There’s a part of us that likes to see village greens and country houses, ships steaming up the Nile. Christie was a very visual writer and she was very well travelled and used a lot of exotic locations she had actually visited.” Though they depict a very British outlook and way of life, Christie’s novels have a cosmopolitan feel, probably inspired by her own life, which involved a great deal of travelling with her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan.

For others, the enjoyment comes from reading books for simple, pure entertainment. They are easy reads that provide a satisfying tale at the end of a busy day, with the guarantee of not being disappointed by the ending. For most, however, it’s about trying to solve the mysteries yourself, before the featured detective does. All the clues necessary are provided throughout the story, but very rarely are the solutions obvious. The crime genre dedicated website, CrimeReads.com, says of the writer, “… Agatha Christie was not interested in murder. She was interested in “English murder,” which is a different thing, relating to the human dynamic rather than the act of violence.”

This viewpoint is echoed throughout Christie’s work. She is often criticised for her murders being unrealistic and lacking in the blood and visceral imagery such acts often feature in more modern literature. However, she never actually claimed her work was believable herself, so it could be argued that renders such an opinion a mute point. They were written to provide fictional escapism. As CrimeReads.com states, “Why would anyone imagine that she intended these plots to be seen as credible events? They were “animated algebra,” a puzzle to be solved.”

While many esteemed writers have also objected (PD James, for one) to her “cardboard cut-out characters”, it can’t be denied that her work is loved, and will continue to be so. Almost every story she has written is now either a play, television show or film – and often all three. The 2017 film, Murder on the Orient Express, successfully delivered her work to a brand new audience, while even repeats of Poirot and Miss Marple on the television continue to rack up ratings almost as highly as when they were first aired ten to twenty years ago.

Today the novels of Agatha Christie are widely accepted to have been the original works that spawned the literary sub-genre “cosy crime.” They have inspired modern fiction, from Midsomer Murders to Death In Paradise and more. More than 4 million copies of her 66 detective novels, as well as her 14 short story collections, are purchased around the world every year. Agatha Christie’s legacy lives on.

It was on 4th July 1862 that a river outing on a sunny day in Oxford gave Charles L. Dodgson – better known as Lewis Carroll – the inspiration to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Travelling downriver with the Liddell family, from Folly Bridge to Godstow, Dodgson (Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and lecturer in Mathematics), made up a story along the way about a bored little girl called Alice (after Alice Liddell), who goes looking for an adventure. At Alice’s request, Dodgson agreed to write the story down. Although he began to work on it the very next day, it took him two and a half years to complete.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was eventually published in 1865. It was instantly loved by both children and adults; consequently the first print run of books ran out very quickly. So what was it that appealed to readers and made Alice such an instant and enduring hit? There is no question that the story is quirky, almost sinister, and it could be this quality that holds the greatest appeal. It is, after all, the story of a girl trapped in a dream world where people are executed simply for planting the wrong coloured roses for the Queen of Hearts, where food and drink can alter your body size and everyone seems just a little bit mad.

Both Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde can be counted amongst the books’ earliest readers, it has never been out of print in 153 years, and has been translated into over 178 languages. Perhaps its initial popularity can be put down to it being the first children’s book published which wasn’t written to teach a lesson. There is no moral tale here. It was just written with the enjoyment of the story itself in mind.

Along with the reading of the book itself, there are many film adaptations of Alice’s story. The most regularly viewed are the Walt Disney film, with its distinctive bright colours and accompanying music, and the contrasting darker version by Tim Burton, which gives more tense take on Alice.

Not only has Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, been made into a number of movies and television shows, it has also, since its copyright expired in 1907, come to life in comics, computer games, appeared on t-shirts, numerous illustrated works, and spawned a whole host of accompanying merchandise that increases in popularity year on year.
Something about Alice appeals to part of everyone’s imagination. It is silly yet serious, joyous yet disturbing, and ridiculous enough for you never to forget that, deep down, it’s all a dream.

From Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House, Cornwall has provided the backdrop to some of the bestselling fiction of all time.

Inspired by the landscape around her, Du Maurier’s novels, which were largely written at her home, Menabilly, near Fowey, give an instantly recognisable image of Cornwall gone by. From the smugglers of Jamaica Inn to the tension of Frenchmen’s Creek, if you didn’t already know her books were set in Cornwall, the scenic descriptions alone would immediately give it away.

For many authors and readers, it is the landscape of Cornwall itself that provides the atmosphere for their story. Neither is it confined to suiting just one or two genres: From the romance of the sandy beach to the suspense and adventure of pirates and smugglers’ tales, to the chills of a deserted, haunted tin mine; even a dose of crisp Cornish sea air can tell a story.

Cornwall, originally Kernow, retains a sense of separation from the rest of Britain. A proud Celtic land defined by incredible geology and geography, surrounded by the sea, devoid of motorways, and set off against the bleak majesty of Bodmin Moor, it is a terrain that simply provokes imagination. Potters, artists and writers alike have honed in on its inspirational qualities for centuries. The narrow roads habitually marked with a distinctive strip of grass down the middle, and the abundance of cream teas (jam goes on the scone before the cream here), makes Britain’s most South-westerly county the perfect setting for romances and women’s fiction. Contemporary writers such as Jenny Kane, Karen King and Philippa Ashley take full advantage of its romantic appeal: the possibilities of getting lost along Cornwall’s hedge-lined lanes, only to be rescued by a handsome stranger, for example…

Television has taken Cornish-based fiction to its heart over the last fifty years. The current retelling of Winston Graham’s classic Poldark novels on television has led to a massive increase in tourism to the Charlestown area, where much of the action is filmed. The dramatic landscapes alone are a great pull for the screen audience, and it has also meant the Graham novels are selling at a rate they haven’t done since Poldark’s last televised adaptation in the 1980’s.

It not just British audiences who flock to Cornwall to visit the locations of its fiction, though. German readers are aware of a phenomenon known as “Pilcher mania.” This refers to the deep love the German reading community has for the work of bestselling novelist Rosamund Pilcher. Such are the numbers of German tourists visiting Cornwall to see the various locations of Pilcher’s novels that in 2013 The Guardian researched the issue. Although the novels were popular in their own right, it was only after The Day of the Storm was shown on German television in 1993- which was watched by 8 million viewers- that the Pilcher trail was set up. “The directors film it so well,” says Mark Pilcher (one of the author’s four children), “that it has moved on from people buying my mother’s books to Cornwall actually selling them.” Claus Beling, who came up with the idea of turning Pilcher’s work into film believed the success of the adaption was down to a general German fascination and nostalgic longing for a more traditional world, “…where a village is still a community in which everyone looks after one another.” This nostalgic feel that Cornwall evokes is certainly part of the appeal of Cornish fiction in general. We are reminded of childhood holidays, of carefree seaside moments and a freedom that everyday adult life denies us.

Cornwall is not the only place in the UK which inspires a profusion of fiction, of course. The Cotswolds, with its picture-postcard villages, and the striking scenery of both the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland, are all locations which guarantee an author sales, simply because so many people enjoy books set in those places.

Whether you are inspired by the sight of Tintagel and its association with the tales of King Arthur, the children’s classic, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, or you are beguiled by Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn, there is no doubt that Cornwall has a “certain something” that keeps readers coming back again and again for some ‘Cornish set’ fictional escapism.

You only need to walk around any library or book shop to see the vast array of literature available to read or buy. Fiction, non-fiction, comics, magazine, newspapers – not to mention the millions of stories and factual works stored on the ever-growing Internet – is readily available everywhere.

The choice of genres is also growing. Gone are the days when you simply read crime or romance, horror, fantasy or science fiction. Every genre now has a myriad of sub genres of their own. There are ghost stories, steampunk, cyberpunk, high fantasy, dark fantasy, romantic comedy, chick lit, westerns, thrillers, manga, fan fiction and much more. But why are we inclined to read one genre over another?

It is often the cover that makes you pick up a book for an initial flick through. However, even when a book attracts you visually, if on closer inspection you find the book is horror or dark suspense, and you don’t like being scared, of course you’ll never read it. Literature isn’t only about pictures after all. Though the sub-genre (or mainstream genre?) of the graphic novel could argue otherwise. Such discussion on what can be classified as what is perhaps most acutely highlighted here, and could form an entire blog on its own!

When it comes to crime and mysteries, readers often enjoy the intellectual challenge that goes alongside the reading process. To be able to solve the ‘Whodunit?’ with, or before, the detective can be very satisfying. Crime fiction is largely consumed by people who enjoy word or logical puzzles. A mystery draws you in and keeps you hanging until the end. It is hard to put such stories down because you need to know how the story ends.

Other people like a more relaxed read. A good romance or work of ‘chick lit’ will provide a satisfying read whilst giving an ending you will be happy and comfortable with. In a world where workday stresses are on the increase, there has been a rise in the number of people both reading and writing this sort of ‘feel good’ fiction. It is the journey that is important in these books – the process of two people meeting and getting together- often in ways which the reader can relate to. And it is this reliability that makes such novels so popular.

Personal preferences of genre not only differ from person to person, but are also dependent on mood. If we are having a stressful time, it is more likely we’ll read a book we’ve read before than a new one, for instance; something where we can simply enjoy the immersion of reading without having to worry about the ending. When life is going well, then we are more likely to read something more challenging.

In a Market Match survey in America in 2012 it was found that men are more likely to read non-fiction than women. The same survey saw that 55% of the women questioned read fiction regularly. Young adults were more likely to read fiction; whereas those aged 75 or older read nonfiction the most. Gender differences in reading habits have been noted in the UK as well. In 2016 The Guardian followed up on national research showing that boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the literature before them, read fewer books than girls, and that they read less thoroughly than girls. “They take less time to process the words, lazily skipping parts with abandon. And they choose books that are too easy for them, meaning they fail to move on to tougher material, it is claimed.”

The genre you read  is most likely the one you feel you can relate to most. There are so many books and so many authors because we all have varying tastes and geographical and educational backgrounds; We will all  have different views on what is or isn’t romantic, what frightens us and what makes us laugh. This is entirely a good thing, too, as we need a variety of literary genres because, as a worldwide reading community we are as wonderfully diverse as the literature available to us.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

In March 2018, the late Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, died at the age of 76. He left a huge body of work behind him, touching on many facets of science, but he was best known for his work as a cosmologist.

When talking to The Telegraph in June 2017, Hawking stated that, “the human race must start leaving Earth within 30 years to avoid being wiped out by overpopulation and climate change.” This prediction of the Earth’s future was something Professor Hawking voiced again at the Starmus science festival in Trondheim, Norway: “It is crucial to establish colonies on Mars and the Moon, and take a Noah’s Ark of plants, animals, fungi and insects to start creating a new world.” Professor Hawking insisted the move to colonise Mars and the Moon should begin within our lifetime, (Specifically, that we should begin Lunar construction within 30 years and on Mars within 50). His theory has not been ignored by NASA, who are currently working on a plan to have humans walking on Mars sometime in the 2030’s.

The colonisation of Mars has been a subject of fascination for writers of science fiction for many years. As far back as 1952, Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific sci-fi writers of all time, published his story, The Martian Way, in which two humans born on Mars live by collecting scraps of spacecraft for recycling purposes. Another acclaimed writer, Ray Bradbury, wrote a collection of short stories known as The Martian Chronicles, which looked at the many potential aspects of living on Mars. Bradbury and Asimov’s work at this time, which concentrated on how difficult it would be to acclimatise to living on a new planet, came before NASA’s Mariner probe reached the red planet in 1965. After that had happened, NASA routinely sent robots into space and to Mars, and science fiction followed its lead on paper.

In 1988, Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road envisaged a future humanity terraforming Mars to make it habitable, even changing the atmosphere itself so that humans could live there. This theme of terraforming is one that has recurred in many Mars-set books and movies, such as the 1990 film, Total Recall ( itself based on the short story We can Remember it for you Wholesale, by Philip K.Dick ).

One of the most famous series of novels to focus on the concept of living on Mars was written by Kim Stanley Robinson. The trilogy of Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars takes place over a period of about 200 years and concentrates on the vast impact of our settlement on the planet, from a scientific, humanitarian and political perspective.

As science has progressed and made more discoveries, and cosmologists like Professor Hawking have continued to expand and prove their theories on the future of Earth and the Solar System in which it orbits, so science fiction has followed on its heels. More recently, The Martian, by Andy Weir (which became a film in 2015), not only addressed the occupation of Mars, but also the practicalities of actually getting there – something most earlier works of fiction conveniently bypassed. By using actual footage from NASA’s “under-development” heavy-lift rocket in the movie, The Martian incorporated real plans to explain how the journey could be made successfully.

There is no doubt that the world of science and exploration will miss the genius that was Professor Stephen Hawking. However, whether we fulfil his dream – his insistence – that we find a full-scale way of life on Mars, or if that is to remain solely within the realms of science fiction, only time will tell.

Shakespeare has remained arguably the world’s most well known writer, ever since he was producing comedies that are still funny today and tragedies that are still heart wrenching. But could there be a modern day equivalent we might imagine staying similarly as popular even centuries after their existence?

It is interesting to consider contributory factors to Shakespeare’s longevity. One would be the sheer volume of works that he produced. Another would be that not all writers from his era achieved fame while they were still alive, whereas he did. Because he achieved great status and popularity, a vast amount of his work was printed, and all of it in large quantities – far more in comparison to his contemporaries. As such his work was also much more accessible to the masses. A lot of his material was protected and survived because he was already a famous figure. Again, this was definitely not the case for many of his fellow writers, many of whose work has been largely lost or forgotten.

There are of course far more published and well-known writers on the shelves today, all in much more competition for public attention. To be considered a modern-day equivalent probably requires more than merely producing fantastic texts. Perhaps a modern equivalent to Shakespeare is not necessarily even a writer in the strictest sense. And perhaps they are someone who has made a significant societal impact through their work or actions, that will continue to be talked about.

An obvious choice would be Akala, who refers to himself as ‘the black Shakespeare’. Akala is a powerful figure in the 21st Century with important political and moral messages, which he presents on television and in talks to various audiences whilst his initial fame grew from his time as a rapper. He is now an incredibly well-respected figure and certainly a positive role model. He is a beautiful writer as well as someone who can contribute to the development of society. What makes Akala stand out is his fierce intelligence and the eloquent manner in which he is able to present his views.

Now for a more controversial choice; Kanye West. I am not drawing a comparison between the work of West and Akala, I think the latter has far more credibility and is better at presenting his views. However, I am comparing the impact that both have on our society. West’s fame is certainly undeniable and he has produced a vast amount of works in both music and clothing. He has millions of fans around the world and a huge online presence. He addresses issues such as racism and crime in his music. He has an important message and has found a voice to deliver this. One of the great things about West is that he gets people talking. Encouraging debate to address inequality can only be good thing.

So Akala and Kanye West are two people that I think could be equated to Shakespeare. Do you agree with either of my suggestions? Can you think of someone better suited? Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Essay writing is, for many people, a difficult skill to master. For some of us, in fact, the problems begin almost before we’ve even started. With this in mind, I would like to offer my own top five tips to get you past that first line.

1. Do some reading around your topic in advance of starting

It is better to use few texts well than lots of texts badly. Make notes if it helps you but what matters most is that you digest the information, so that you can build on it in your essay. To write a good essay you need to feel confident enough about your topic to write out a paragraph without stopping to look something up. An essay will always read better if it has been written in a linear manner.


2. Begin by thinking about the end point

By this I mean think carefully about what your conclusion is going to be. What is your overall viewpoint? An essay is a chance to put forward a balanced argument for a view you have on a certain topic. Your essay will be more enjoyable to write if you are arguing for a view that you truly believe in.


3. Plan your introduction

What are the key concepts that the reader will need to know about to understand your essay? The introduction is your chance to capture your reader’s attention, so keep it snappy and to the point. Any topic can be interesting if it is well written about. If you just want to scribble down some key words and come back to it later that is fine.


4. Plan the sections in the main body of the essay

Sit down somewhere cosy and quiet and get the main body planned in one sitting. Libraries are free to use and can provide an ideal workspace away from distractions. You know the key concepts you would like to include and you know your concluding viewpoint. Move on from one point to the next, thinking about how they interact with each other. Each paragraph and sentence should connect to the one before and after.


5. Get someone who has little to no prior knowledge of the topic to read through your plan

Your essay should make sense to whomever wanted to read it, not just your teacher who already knows lots about the topic. Ask them a few questions about the topic or the view you’re discussing in your essay to see if it’s coming across in the way that you want it to.


BONUS TIP: Do your bibliography as you go along! The feeling of relief when you finish an essay can be ruined when you realise you need to write out a whole bibliography. It will take a lot less time to do if you constantly add in texts as you use them, because you won’t spend so much time trying to find lost details! Make sure you have a guide you find easy to use when writing out the references. There is an abundance of these to be found online, so you have plenty of choice!


Romance writing has always had a second class reputation in the world of literature. It is frequently considered the easy option, both to read and to write. It’s also frequently assumed to be trashy or low grade fiction; the literary alternative to reality television.

Why these opinions are so widely held is something of a mystery when romance outsells every other genre. And what of novels such as Jayne Eyre (above)? Gothic, perhaps, but certainly romantic. One of the most successful authors of the modern world, Nora Roberts, has had novels in the New York Times Bestsellers list on 191 occasions, and yet only twice has that same publication reviewed her work. The chief accusation levelled at romance is that it’s “an easy read.” Personally, I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing. We all work hard these days; a bit of escapism, in whatever genre, has to be a good thing.

In the Victorian era romance was considered not only to be of poor quality, but dangerous. There was a very real fear amongst the male population that if women read romantic books they would get unrealistic expectations about what married life had in store for them. This concept of unrealistic expectations is still an accusation levelled at romantic fiction. It is an odd argument. You rarely hear people say “I don’t like science fiction or horror because it is unrealistic.’ Surely that’s the point. Fiction is often based in reality but it is, by definition, made up. It’s escapism. It’s entertainment. Something to draw us away from our day to day lives for a while. If being unrealistic in fiction was an issue then Tolkien would never have written a word.

Another problem laid at romance’s door is that it is formulaic. This is to some extent true. Romances have two people meeting, they get on, they then fall out, they overcome their issues and get on again; there is then another problem which has to be overcome prior to a happy ending. The mistake people make is thinking that writing with a formula makes it an easier task. It doesn’t. The reverse is true. Having rules to write by is very difficult; especially if you want to be original with your work. And finally, the most baffling anti-romance novel argument of all is “they always have a happy ending.” So do most crime, sci-fi, mystery, gothic, thrillers, and horror novels.

The situation is summed up nicely by Amy Paulussen, Chairperson of the Canterbury Branch of the NZ Society of Authors. “You may call them ‘easy reads’ or ‘beach books’, but I’m confused… is reading meant to be hard? Unpleasant? A chore? Am I supposed to get to the end of the book and feel relieved that it’s over and I can put the book proudly on my living room shelf and impress the neighbours?”

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