Tag Archives: Mills and Boon

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 stock.adobe.com

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 stock.adobe.com

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.

A pearl anniversary…

One score and ten years ago…

Busy fizzWith apologies to Abraham Lincoln – I couldn’t resist – it is thirty years ago, almost to the day (it was actually December 2) when my first book, An Image of You, was published.

It was my fourth attempt to write a book for Mills and Boon. I do, somewhere, still have my first rejection letter. I seem to recall the word “wooden” used to describe my characters, and a suggestion that I read books by Elizabeth Oldfield and Vanessa Grant. As you can tell, it is ingrained in my memory.

The book…

I later had the enormous pleasure of meeting Elizabeth at author lunches, along with so many fan-favourite romance authors. But back to that precious moment. The arrival of my first box of books. I’d been out somewhere and when I came home the box was sitting on my desk, with my husband and daughter staring at it, waiting for me to open it. Continue reading

Red Boots and Bow Tie (or RNA Awards Ceremony)

Hello again. I’m back about the RNA Awards…

Recently I was here with Louise Allen, chatting about how it felt like to be shortlisted for the RNA Awards. Now the Awards are over, and I’m back to tell you all about it.

RNA Awards invitation

Romanceland has been buzzing about the RNA Awards

Continue reading

Series Covers : but what says Series Covers to readers?

Earlier this week, our own Liz Fielding published a blog about her series covers over 30 years of her writing career. It was fascinating. And it made me think about brands and series.

What makes Series Covers?

A Poor Relation by Joanna Maitland coverCover of A Baby Of Her Own by Kate HardyHarlequin Mills & Boon have been producing different series for decades. Readers may be fans of one or more of these series. Perhaps they love Medicals (left), or Historicals (right).

Readers expect to be able to identify their particular series covers the moment they look at the shelves in the bookshop. It used to be easy because of the colour coding: for example, Medicals were the jade green shown above; Historicals were Dairy Milk Purple. Modern and Romance (of which more below) also had the swoosh against blue (for Modern) and orange (for Romance).

And within their favourite series, readers want to be able to pick out the authors whose books they love. Preferably without having to peer at tiny or barely legible print. The two cover images above don’t get very high marks on that front. It would have been easy to remedy, though.

To give the paying customers what they want.
Simples, no? Isn’t that what branding is about? Well… Continue reading

Yikes, I’ve won the Libertà Award : Guest Blog by Kate Hardy

As a follow-up to last weekend’s blog on the virtual ceremony for the RNA Awards 2021, this week we’re delighted to be able to welcome Kate Hardy, the winner of the LIbertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award 2021 for A Will, A Wish and A Wedding.

Kate is an old mate of the Libertà hive. She was one of the very kind authors who welcomed the then unpublished newbie, Joanna Maitland, to her very first RNA meeting. That was well over 20 years ago and Kate says she doesn’t remember. But Joanna does and is still grateful.

Kate Hardy's spaniels, Archie and DexterKate comes—be warned—with hairy hangers-on. So this is partly a writer’s pet blog too. It’s about time we did another of those, don’t you think?

Kate’s hangers-on, Archie (the big one) and Dexter, rejoice in the title of Edit-paw-ial Assistants.
More from them later.

Keep reading, as Kate tells us about how she became a published author and how she came to write the lovely butterfly-filled book that won our award.

Kate Hardy writes…

I’m thrilled to be here, as the winner of the 2021 Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award. It’s a glorious collision of numbers: for my 90th M&B, in my 20th year of being a M&B author and my 25th year of being a member of the RNA. And it’s also the third time I’ve won the award. As the photo below shows, I really wasn’t expecting it — and I’m so delighted!

Kate Hardy is announced as the winner of the Libertà Books Award 2021

Continue reading

Romantic Novelists’ Association at 60 : with RNA memories

RNA at 60 celebration balloons

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) reaches its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. Wow! That makes the RNA more venerable than pretty much all the other writers’ organisations. All the ones that we know of, anyway.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Possibly NOT an RNA member?

So the writers in the Libertà hive started reminiscing — as you do — about what the RNA has meant to each of us. We’re all long-standing members. And it’s an organisation that we revere.
But why? What’s so special about the RNA?

Basically, it’s the people in the RNA and the values they stand for. And the support and friendship that the association provides. Don’t believe any rubbish you hear about romance writers stabbing each other in the back. That was a bad joke from a writer in a non-romance genre — who honestly should have known better.

Rosie M Banks, readerWriters in the RNA are the most helpful, supportive, loving bunch you could ever meet. They know the romance market is vast. No single romance writer can satisfy all those readers out there. So it’s in all our interests to grow the market and help each other.

Which is what we do. What’s not to like? Continue reading

The story began, but where? Liz Fielding puzzles

I began, but where? How? What was the inciting moment?

cover of Liz Fielding's Latest Book The Billionaire's Convenient Bride

Liz Fielding’s Latest Book
The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride

Every time I finish a story, I try to remember where it began, in this case to try and put my finger on the exact moment when The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride stopped being a mess of stuff in my head and began to be a story.

Sometimes it’s so clear.

I once saw a great house set high up in the woods as I was being driven to Cheltenham. I instantly pictured a woman standing on the doorstep. Angry, not wanting to be there. She had a wedding to arrange. The man who answered the door was expecting someone else so he wasn’t happy, either. And then there was the baby.

It took me a while to work out the why, the what happened next, but it eventually became The Bride, the Baby and the Best Man.

My new book began with Dora

Liz Fielding's new book began with Dora, the dachshund

I don’t usually add dogs to my books. That’s because, like babies and small children, you constantly have to remember where they are. Make sure they’re being taken care of.

This time, however, I found myself desperate for a dachshund. I have an entire Pinterest page devoted to them! I began buying stuff with dachshunds on them. Notebooks, socks, a Christmas sweater — they are, I discovered to my joy, everywhere. This is Dora. Continue reading