Category Archives: books

Escapist romance : must it always be set in Italy or Greece?

woman overlooking seaToday (Friday) I finished reading a romantic novel featuring a heroine who finds love over a summer in Italy. Classic escapist romance. It’s not a genre I read much—more on that later—but this one was from an author I admire and I hadn’t read any of her books for a while.

So it was timely. And I enjoyed the story very much.

There are, as you probably know, loads of books in this genre. But my reading got me thinking and asking questions.

Why are they so popular?
And why are they mostly set in Italy or Greece?
Aren’t there other places for a heroine to find love?

Research your escapist settings before you put finger to blog?

At this point, you may be yelling at your screen that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Since you might well be right there 😉 I took the precaution of doing my research by checking Amazon lists. I filtered for “summer escapist romance”. This is what I got in the first 60 books:sunset, woman reading in a hammock under a palm tree, with beach and sky behind her

  • 13   set in Italy
  • 11   set in France
  • 7     set in Greece
  • 3     set in Spain/Portugal
  • 7     set in Cornwall
  • 5     set in Scotland

OK. Maybe I was wrong in saying summer escapist books are “mostly” set in Italy or Greece. But a lot of them are. On my count above, it’s one-third for the two together. I also have to admit that a lot are set in France, often on the French Riviera. But that’s almost Italy, isn’t it?

glorious beach in north-west Scotland

Glorious beach in Northwest Scotland

I should also have realised how popular Cornwall has become. Fair enough. But Scotland? As a Scot in exile, I can’t forget the midges and the rain, though I admit the scenery is spectacular and, when the sun shines, I’d say there’s nowhere better on earth. (And here’s one of my own pics to prove it.)

I tried Amazon again with the search term “summer fiction”. In the first 25 books, Italian settings scored 8, Greek settings 6, Scotland a measly 1. France and Cornwall got none at all. So in that second sample, Italy + Greece did account for more than half. See, I was sort of right after all. (And no, I didn’t fiddle the searches to get the answer i wanted. Honest.)

Escapist romance needs the right setting

Winter midlands garden: snow, grey, miserable

As we sit here in the UK, in February, in the rain (mostly, but sometimes snow), and with dark mornings and evenings, it’s easy to see the lure of warmth and sunshine and the kind of outdoor life that’s difficult this far north.

Bars and cafés and restaurants spilling onto the street as a matter of course because everyone knows it won’t rain? People sitting around in shorts and t-shirts or going for a leisurely promenade in the cool of the evening? Warm azure sea to swim in? (Cornwall may be OK on that front in high summer—I haven’t tried—but I can assure you, from freezing experience, that Scotland definitely isn’t.)

Athens, Acropolis in winter

Athens, Acropolis by santorines

This weekend, the temperature here in the Midlands is forecast to reach a high of 14º, very warm for the time of year. But it’s grey and it keeps raining, on and off.

In Italy (Rome) it’s likely to be 20º without a cloud in the sky. Same, or hotter, in Seville in Spain. Corfu, in Greece, will be cooler, maybe 16º, but cloudless skies are forecast there too.

So, even in winter, those Mediterranean settings have something attractive to recommend them. (And the Acropolis is always worth a visit, even if it’s got snow on it, as shown in the image above. Note the cheerily bright blue sky.)

The essentials of an escapist romance?

blue question marks

Too predictable?

As I said at the start, I don’t read all that many escapist romances because, if I’m honest, I find them too predictable.

Pause for thought here. Why am I saying that? After all, I used to write Regency romances for Mills & Boon and they were pretty predictable, too. In all these (m/f) romances, it’s heroine meets hero, attraction happens, conflicts keep them apart, then conflicts are resolved and we get a HEA.

So being too predictable is a pretty lame excuse on my part. Not good enough, Joanna. Try again.

Fantasy characters?

My second reason for not reading many is that I often find it difficult to empathise with the characters. The hero is (usually) to die for. Not only gorgeous to look at, but also kind, sympathetic, understanding, rich enough to live a good life, etc etc. He’s probably even a great cook! How many men like that have you met recently? No, me neither, so I find it difficult to believe in him. (More about him later.)

diverging paths, which to choose?

Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

The heroine is (usually) blonde, slim and very attractive but with some kind of trauma in her immediate past (like a bad divorce) that has brought her to a crossroads in her life. Faced with that choice, she decides to make a fresh start in a new country far away from the grim old UK.

And in spite of the fact that she probably speaks barely a word of the language, she makes a success of it, finding the dishy hero along the way. It takes a really good writer to make me believe in a heroine like that, too. (And I want to slap her on the language laziness.)

That exotic location again?

Add in the relatively exotic location and it can begin to feel like pure fantasy. Sunshine, blue sea etc. It never seems to get so hot that hero or heroine start wilting, does it? (When I was in southern Spain last year, it was about 40º and even the locals were wilting.) In escapist romance, it’s always picture postcard perfection, like this image of Samos, in Greece:

Greek taverns, Samos

Samos beach tavernas by freesurf

And mentioning Spain led me to wonder why so few escapist romances are set there. It has beaches, and tavernas, and sun too, doesn’t it? My good friend Sophie, of this parish, may have provided the answer there. It’s the Benidorm factor, we decided. Although loads of Spain is nothing like Benidorm and it has lots of wonderfully romantic settings, many Brits do think of Benidorm-type resorts when they think of Spain. And that image may not be helpful for escapist romance.

Cordoba, Spain, city walls early morning

Cordoba, city walls, early morning

Italy and Greece, on the other hand, don’t generally suffer from the Benidorm factor (or local equivalent). For both of them, Brits tend to think of small resorts with tavernas on the beach (like Samos, above) and cosy little hotels or villas to rent where escaping heroines can relax freely and find a new life. (They may also think of glamorous and upmarket cities like Rome or Venice or Athens where an escaping heroine might be swept off her feet by a droolworthy hero.)

Nothing against Italy and Greece, but I love Spain and I’d say that it deserves a revival in the escapist romance arena. Up in the mountains, or in some of its glorious cities, maybe, like Toledo, or Cordoba, or Seville?

Granada, Spain, alhambra from below

Granada, the Alhambra from below

The hero in escapist romance is…?

Back to our hero, as promised.

He’s hot, of course. Usually with dark-eyed, dark-haired, smouldering good looks. Sometimes with a hint of menace or leashed power.

And charisma by the bucketload.

I do find myself wondering, though, why these hot and desirable heroes have reached the age of 30 or 35 without getting hitched.

Cynics might say that it’s the Mamma syndrome, that these gorgeous men are so pampered by their doting Mammas (cooking for them, doing the laundry, generally waiting on them hand and foot) that no other female will be good enough. So said heroes stay at home and live the easy life with Mamma. Makes them a bit less droolworthy, maybe…?

When one of my author friends attended a real honest-to-goodness Greek wedding, she was rash enough to mention the “Greek hero” trope to some of the younger guests. After they had stopped laughing—and it took quite a while—they gently disabused her. No, Greek men weren’t like that at all. They were not all that different from British men, apparently.

The same is probably true of smouldering Italian heroes. (Or at least the ones who get away from Mamma.) Do they smoulder? One gets the impression that [some] Italian men like to think they ooze sex-appeal.

I am reminded of the sidekick, Mimí, in Camilleri’s Montalbano books and TV series, set in Sicily. The TV Mimí (who fits the dark-haired, dark-eyed pattern) seems to be able to seduce almost any woman, though to my mind his looks are nothing special. How does he do it?

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Sadly, we never really get to find out. Though he does seem to have a good line in chat.

Like the Greek Lothario in Shirley Valentine whose chat-up lines are so well honed that he uses them regularly on incoming female tourists like Shirley? Not a true escapist romance, that one. Love and trust? I don’t think so. And that’s another question mark over the hot Greek or Italian hero.

Then again, Rudolph Valentino was Italian so maybe he proves the smouldering rule?

More research needed?

I think I probably need to shell out on a fair few more escapist romances in order to find out the truth about the genre. But you may have different views?
Do you love them?
Write them?
Do tell me where I’m going wrong.

Joanna Maitland author


Late PS: Forgot to say, in the blog, that even Libertà indulges in escapist fiction sometimes. For fun and laughter on the English riviera—in Little Piddling no less—try the 6 novellas in our Beach Hut Surprise, available as an ebook here.
Buying our book would help to support this website. Thank you.

Christmas and New Year Greetings with Christmas books

The Libertà hive has got into the habit of relaxing over Christmas and New Year. Probably reading Christmas books! Which means no blog, sadly. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 7th January, 2024.

In the meantime, we hope all our readers had a very happy Christmas and we wish you a prosperous and healthy New Year. Busy fizz

And if Santa didn’t bring you any Christmas books, there are some that the hive would recommend. (Since hive members wrote them, we would, wouldn’t we?)
What’s more, our cute cat loves them… Continue reading

Accidental Historical

Earlier this month one of my all time favourite authors, Leigh Michaels, proposed a new category of books: the Accidental Historical.

She has  coined it to cover republished books which she wrote some years ago. Back then, they were correctly described as contemporary romantic fiction. But we have had a digital, social and media revolution since then.

After pondering this for a bit, I think Amazon, other online stores and ALL publishers of ebooks in general would do well to adopt it.

Leigh Michaels

cover of novel, Brittany's Castle, showing a welcoming room with a tall Christmas tree, ablaze with lights and beautifully packed presents at its foot. Leigh Michaels is a multi-award winning author of contemporary and historical fiction, mostly romantic. She’s published in more than 25 languages and 120 countries the last time I looked. She is also a teacher and mentor for other writers. For a while we shared the inspiring editor Jacqui Bianchi, whom I have quoted here before.

And I have loved her books ever since Jacqui recommended them to me. Several of the books are on, not just my Keeper Shelf, but my Never to be Taken Out of This House Under Any Circumstances shelf.

I have had to wrench my copy of A New Desire  out of the hands of a departing guest. “If you want to read it, fine. But you have to come back here and read it in situ.” She did. She was 25.

And this is the nub of the matter. The book my visitor was so determined to read was first published in 1989. It was ten years older than she was.

Enter the Accidental Historical. Continue reading

Popular Fiction of the Past

Edwardian man with stiff collar holding hands across a desk or table with Edwardian lady, leaning towards each other as if about to kiss.

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Popular fiction of the past has fascinated me since I was a child.

This has certainly intensified since I helped put together the 50th Anniversary Memoir of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. And many of those I have read since have, indeed, been romantic.

But the itch to read over the shoulder of my forebears was already there. It covered just about every genre, too.

I had access to three sets of bookshelves when I was a child. My parents, marrying late, also united their reading matter.

Gone With The Wind First Edition coverMy father brought a complete set of Dickens, H G Wells and Wisden to the marriage; my mother a rather wider selection, including Gone With the Wind and golden age mysteries. The extended family offered encyclopaedias, a lot of household tips (which I loved) and gloomily improving childhood literature, like The Water Babies, which I detested. Continue reading

Promoting a book : tips from Liz Fielding

“One of my first bosses in the industry told me that publishing is a hits-based business. Publish enough books, the hits will buoy up the titles that don’t sell many copies. Now more than ever, it feels like there’s often a push from on high for more volume – throw more at the wall and more will stick – but often, it’s very much a case of more for less: more books without more marketing spend; more output but no more budget for quality editorial and design; more authors but no more resourcing to ensure good author management.”

From an article in The Bookseller, May 2nd(NB the link may not be accessible for everyone).


Murder among the Roses by Liz FieldingGood news for Liz Fielding fans!

She has a new book out!

This time she’s giving us a mystery set in one of her much-loved English country towns, Murder Among the Roses. I pre-ordered it and read it in one gulp, deep into the night. I can tell you, it has her signature tone of kindly humour, allied with a cracker of a mystery!

As a fellow writer who is pretty clueless about all things marketing, I wanted to ask Liz about the practicalities of promoting a book which is, for her, a new type of story.

Promoting a book: when to start and who does what

Q1  When did you start to tell people about Murder Among the Roses, Liz?
Has it set you any new challenges?
Continue reading

Plotting the perfect crime…

Switching Genres…

Image by Davie Bicker from Pixabay

I’ve been a published romance writer for more than thirty years now. That’s seventy books for Harlequin Mills and Boon and a few more for other publishers.

I was in a groove – some people might call it a comfortable rut – but I was producing books that enough people loved to keep me in contract and an advance and royalties coming in.

It’s hard to give up that up just because you’ve had a story in your head for a very long time that refuses to go away.

When you’ve had that security for thirty years, to write a book in a totally different genre — crime — on spec, with no publisher, no advance or promise of publication is like stepping off a cliff.

Sink or swim?

Image by J Garget from Pixabay

Maybe it was lockdown, the sense that life was out of control and might never be the same again. The sense that if I didn’t do it now, then when? That if I didn’t take the risk, would I go to my grave regretting that I didn’t have the courage, or the self-belief that had the “do it now” bells ringing.

I’d delivered the last of the books on my current contract. I could take six months out for a passion project – I knew the story – inspired by a documentary I’d seen. I had my victim, I had my murderer, I had my “sleuth”.

I’d lived with them in my head for a long time. I could give them six months of my life.

The Beginning…

Continue reading

Romance Reading Month

I suppose it was inevitable that February should become Romance Reading Month. There’s St Valentine doing his bit on the 14th to remind the world that romantic love is a) universal b) important and c) can be awkward. The material of good stories, in fact.

It seems to me that Valentine’s Day gets increasing attention every year. Partly this is because Bloggins’ Aniversary And Activity Day has long been the jobbing editor’s lifeline to fill an blank column or an empty four minutes on broadcast magazine programmes.

Clearly there’s even more and more slots to fill these days, what with social media ‘n’ all. And, frankly, St Valentine doesn’t face many candidates for rival celebration attention in the shortest month. Ground Hog Day anyone?

Spring in the Air?

Continue reading

Georgette Heyer: Debut With Highwayman

Georgette Heyer The Black MothConstable published Georgette Heyer’s debut novel, The Black Moth, in September 1921. Houghton Miflin brought it out in the USA. Last year I celebrated its centenary with a blog on Who made Georgette Georgian.

Initially, the book attracted perfunctory but largely friendly reviews. Indeed, a cracker in the Boston Evening Transcripts of 23 November even took a stab at imitating the book’s faux Georgian narrative style. Interestingly, Heyer is a whole lot better at it than the reviewer. His delight in his own efforts cannot quite disguise several errors in his account of the story. We forgive  him for the entertainment value. And he does make it sound like a good fun read. So it probably wasn’t bad for sales.

Anyway, the book was a commercial success pretty much immediately.

Wot The TLS Said

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Books Set in Bookshops

Reading Recs

I was talking to my daughter over lunch the other day about the books we’re reading.

She belongs to a book group that reads “serious” fiction and, coming up on their list is Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. It’s a book much loved by Sophie Weston and I have taken advantage of Amazon’s “download a sample” button to get a feel for the voice, the story.

Reading cozy crime

My daughter and I talked about a crime series that I’ve read (not cozy) Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series. Annoyingly, it appears to have stopped, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

She downloaded the first book but she’s not sure. She didn’t quite take to the main character and while I read very fast on kindle, she listens on audio (she has three children and doesn’t have time to sit down with a book) which gives the listener a surprisingly different experience.

I knew the series was set in Wales but she was getting the accents, which can make listening hard work.

Books set in bookshops

Then, because I enjoy cozy crime, she mentioned a book by Helen Cox, called A Body in the Bookshop that she thought I might like and we started talking about how many books are set in and around bookshops.

Amy suggested I try the Pultizer prize winner, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which was on her book group list. Time for another sample because there is something inherently appealing about a book set in a bookshop.

I fell in love with Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road a lifetime ago – and Anthony Hopkins in the film, playing the man with whom she had a long and profitable correspondence.

Anne Bancroft fell in the love with the book, too, and her husband, Mel Brookes, bought the film rights so that she could play Helen.

Romances set in bookshops

Continue reading

Cover help and a Free Book Giveaway

I’m desperately in need of cover help.
Basically, I can’t decide between two different covers for the Christmas book that I’m about to republish. I’ve revised and extended it and I want it to be right. So I’m asking for advice here.

Please tell me which cover you think I should choose. Continue reading