Tag Archives: romance

PGW and the Romantic Novelist

Just over a week ago I asked an expert why     P G Wodehouse seemed so out of sympathy with the romantic novelist. Did he know one?

romantic novelist Barbara Cartland

This is where I should probably admit that I have a sneaky image of a young Barbara Cartland pursuing him. Well, PGW was a big name when he visited London in the 20s and she was a newbie author and playwright.

If they did meet,  I would put good money on him evaporating sharpish. He had perfected the technique. His family called it the Wodehouse Glide. But nobody I’ve come across has offered any evidence of Wodehouse encountering a romantic novelist in real life.

The expert said, quite rightly, that PGW was pretty brisk on the subject of all sorts of pretentiousness. And, anyway, PGW handed out as many knocks to male poets as he did to female novelists.

PGW, The Expert and The British Library

PGW, romantic novelistThe expert was Tony Ring, enthusiast, indefatigable researcher, co-founder of the Wodehouse Society and authority on all things Wodehouse.

Indeed, my opportunity to question him arose at a very jolly talk he gave to accompany the British Library’s current exhibition, to which he acted as adviser.

P G Wodehouse, the Man and his Work ends on 24 February, by the way. So if you fancy going, you’d better get a shimmy on.

As I must, myself, as a matter of fact. It has pages of ms with his own edits. Written or typed by PGW in person.

More Than One Romantic Novelist

There was a blooming of English romantic novelists in  Wodehouse short stories in the 20s. Indeed, one became a serial offender. But more of her later.

PGR Romantic Novelist Honeysuckle CottageFirst of the stand-alone authoresses was the seriously schmalzy Leila J Pinckney. She made herself felt from the grave in Honeysuckle Cottage. The Saturday Evening Post published it in the US in January, the Strand magazine in February 1925. It appears in Meet Mr Mulliner.

A blameless young writer of gumshoe crime inherits his romantic novelist aunt’s cosy nook and find that his plots, and even his prose, lurch into the saccharine under her incorporeal influence. Worse, real life follows suit.

“The damned funniest idea I’ve ever had,” PGW wrote. Many people, including the philosopher Wittgenstein, seem to agree.

PGW romantic novelist Lady WickhamThe second is Lady Wickham, the forceful mother of noted hell raiser, Bobbie Wickham. Lady W endeavours to woo an American publisher with a restful stay at her idyllic country seat. Mr Potter Takes a Rest Cure is one of PGW’s rare ironic titles.

Bobbie plots. The gods of farce preside. Poor Mr Potter leaves, a broken man. And Lady Wickham doesn’t get her publishing deal. Strand magazine took this one, too (February 1926), preceded by the US magazine Liberty in January. It is in the Blandings Castle and Elsewhere collection.

I remember weeping with laughter over it, as disaster piles upon disaster. The reader can even see the next one coming, as none pf the characters can, not even the impressively evil Bobbie. My ribs ached for hours afterwards.


PGW romantic novelist, Short story Best SellerBut it was in another story from the Milliner stable that PGW plumbed the dark depths he imagined with dreadful precision — those of writing and of publishing and even of inspiring romantic fiction.

First published in Cosmopolitan in 1930, Best Seller is a terrible warning  on many fronts: the hollowness of fame, the crippling price of success, cultural delusions, writer’s block, deadlines… It’s all there.

Evangeline Pembury’s first novel, Parted Ways, against all expectations, knocks the in-house opposition at her publisher’s into a cocked hat. Therefore, neither publisher, nor her agent, nor the public can get enough of her. She has contracts and cash coming at her from all sides. And she sobs “like a lost soul.”

romantic novelist busy editing“But I can’t. I’ve been trying for weeks, and I can’t write anything.  And I shall never be able to write anything. I don’t want to write anything. I don’t know what to write about. I wish I were dead.”

Phew! From the heart, or what? I tell you, it sends chills up my spine just typing that.

romantic novelist reading aloudAnd PGW doesn’t just focus on the writer’s horrors. He has no pity for their husbands or partners either.

For the romantic novelist in question is the newly affianced wife of our hero, Egbert Mulliner. Inspired by his love — she quotes his proposal verbatim in her story — she has penned her first novel. And reads the whole thing aloud to him.  AAARGH!

He marvelled, as many a man has done before and will again, how women can do these things. Listening to “Parted Ways” made him, personally, feel as if he had suddenly lost his trousers while strolling along Piccadilly.


Dirty draft mystery journeyEgbert Mulliner is a classical hero, no question. For he treads a dark path. And he starts off with an ingrained character flaw that clearly signals whence his Trials will come.

Everyone has his pet aversion. Some dislike slugs, others cockroaches. Egbert Mulliner disliked female novelists. 

Not serious, you may think. Not fatal.

Nor is it really blameworthy, either. Before our story opens he has avoided a nervous breakdown by a whisker. His employer sent him off to a specialist after Egbert was found at his desk with little flecks of foam about his mouth and muttering over and over again in a dull, toneless voice the words, ‘Aurelia McGoggin, she draws her inspiration from the scent of white lilies !'”

We certainly know the flaw which will trip him up, right from the start. And the story does not disappoint. Egbert falls for a cheerful girl who plays golf. He sees her squashing a wasp with a spoon. Egbert even asks her if she writes — novels/ short stories/ poems. No, none of them. All will be well. He proposes

Woman chained to her working deskBut, like every hero of myth Egbert Mulliner forgets the catch. He didn’t tell her about his flaw. And he didn’t ask  about the  future.

For that reason, as you have already seen, the worst comes to pass. Egbert faces his horrors. But just when he thinks that things can’t get worse, they do. Twice. He descends into the abyss and emerges a changed man, not for the better. Bitter and twisted with his ruined soul in chains about covers it.

But then… 

No, I won’t go on. One of the few virtues of the romantic novelist is not giving away other people’s surprise endings.


The Inimitable Jeeves Rosie M first appears in a 1922 short story, Bingo and the Little Woman. PGW then integrates that prolonged anecdote into the episodic novel The Inimitable Jeeves. Thereafter, she drifts through 20 stories and more. Often she is somebody’s favourite author.

Many of her titles get a name check. Madeleine Bassett describes the plot of Mervyn Keene, Clubman to Bertie in, to him, excruciating detail. “I had always known in a sort of vague, general way that Mrs Bingo wrote the world’s worst tripe — Bingo generally changes the subject nervously if anyone mentions the little woman’s output — but I had never supposed her capable of bilge like this,” he tells us.

Rosie M Banks, Bingo readingInterestingly, her work makes an appearance before Ms Banks in person. Jeeves explains that her romantic novels make “light, attractive reading”. So he recommends the eponymous Bingo Little to read them to his tough egg of an uncle, to soften the latter’s heart. Bingo and the Little Woman is a joy.

The wondrous Fry and Laurie’s Jeeves and Wooster pretty much does it justice.


As is the wont of those minor characters who get too big for their boots, Rosie M Banks has got her foot over the threshold of the real world on at least two occasions so far.

Rosie M. Banks Navy NurseThe first was when a series of nurse romances, by Rosie M. Banks, including Navy Nurse, came out in 1959-1962. PGW had not written it. Nor had he imagined either the title or the story.

Dedicated PGW researchers (*scroll to page 13 on the linked article) discovered the author was one Alan Jackson. He, or his publisher, had written to for his PGW permission. PGW, much amused, agreed.

The second occurred when Random House invited readers to propose the best 100 novels ever. As one of the perpetrators has since confessed, inspired PGW fans succeeded in placing Rosie M. Banks’s Only A Factory Girl on that list. (Incidentally, a lovely article about remembering how to read for fun.) Eventually some joyless bureaucrat sussed out the conspiracy and disqualified her entry. But for a while…

ROSIE M. BANKS SPEAKS … to be continued next week

Sophie Weston Author


Veronica the crafty companion : Guest blog by Judy Astley

Judy Astley authorThis month, we welcome another Libertà friend and much-loved author, Judy Astley, to the blog.

Like so many of our guest bloggers, Judy has a fascinating portfolio of skills. She spent several years as a dressmaker, painter and illustrator before writing her first book, Just For The Summer. She’s since written nineteen more. Phew! And now, after a two-year rest to refill the creative well, she’s working on book number twenty-one. Her many fans will be delighted.

Like many other writers, Judy has a furry friend — Veronica. And Veronica sounds to be quite a character, as Judy explains…

Veronica has her own ideas about what to wear…

Veronica the crafty Burmese cat (+ friend)


My cat’s collar was starting to look like a charm bracelet. From it dangled her metal tag with her address and phone number, a magnetic gadget that opened her catflap and then this new addition: a soft blue disc that held a new device — a tracker.

“I’m sorry, but you’ve brought it on yourself,” I told Veronica (a blue Burmese, sweet but crafty).

She gave me a look that clearly said, “You expect me to go out in this?” Continue reading

My Hairy-Chested Hero : Guest Blog by Christina Hollis

portrait of author Christina HollisToday, we welcome our first guest blogger of 2018, Christina Hollis, a writer with quite a pedigree.

Christina has written non-fiction, historical novels, and modern romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon and other publishers, selling nearly 3 million books in more than twenty languages.

But today, Christina is not talking about her writing.
Today her guest blog is about Alex, her beloved hairy-chested hero…

My Hero with the Hairy Chest…

Intelligent, a good listener, the perfect companion for long country walks—but that’s enough about my husband. I’m here to tell you about Alex, our retriever/labrador cross. Continue reading

Empathy with characters: good AND evil? glad OR gory?

Empathy with characters:
what is it and who has it?

Empathy? Roughly, it’s feeling what another person is feeling, from their point of view. Even if that other person is fictional.
So readers may identify with the heroine in a romance, or with the spy in a thriller, or with the detective in a crime story.

Writing Regency romances, my aim was always that my [mostly female] readers would identify with my heroine and fall in love with my hero.

But readers don’t all react in the same way to our characters and our plots. And I’m beginning to wonder if age is one important factor in that. Continue reading

Writing for a Reader – a personal journey of discovery

Writing for a ReaderWriting for a reader is how I finished my very first book. That probably sounds strange, after my heartfelt blog about writing for one’s own inner reader. But the truth is that, although I’d been writing all my life, the very first book I finished was written for a particular reader.

And the key word here is FINISHED.

My First Time Writing for a Reader

Continue reading

Love among the Thrillers: Alison Morton guests

Alison Morton, author of Roma Nova series of thrillersToday, we welcome our first guest blogger of 2017, Alison Morton, author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series. Her novels are set in the alternate reality of a breakaway Roman state that survived the fall of the rest of the Empire — and it’s run by women! There are six novels in the series, all edge-of-the-seat thrillers, but all involving at least one love story as well. So Alison is well qualified to blog here on the subject of…

lovers - but can love survive in thrillers?Love among the Thrillers

Love. Ah, love! Nothing like a breathless heroine falling into the arms of her strong, yet conquered hero.

Yes, heroes are conquered by that heart-pounding, visceral but tender feeling as much as heroines are. But that’s just in romances, isn’t it? The classic “happy ever after” ending?

Er, no. Continue reading

That Unique Moment – Making a Story Special

That unique moment — we all know what it is when we come across it in a book or a movie, an opera. We recognise it the moment we see it.

smell evokes memoryAlthough feel it would probably be a better word. And sometimes we don’t even realise what it was until we’re describing the story to someone else.

Lots of people try to analyse it. But essentially, it’s visceral. More like a fleeting scent or a snatch of music than anything we can explain. Continue reading

Be My Valentine? I Don’t Think So

old laptop with valentineWhen email was new and spam was something you found in school lunches, I once got a message on my hefty laptop headed “Be My Valentine?”

I deleted it, unopened.

With a shudder. And I’d never even heard of viruses then. I just didn’t want to go there. Continue reading