Tag Archives: Scotland

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

Joanna

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.

The Devil and the postman

Sarah home after meeting the devilHome again, and celebrating another voyage of discovery, complete with devil and postman. Don’t you just love it when you are driving along and suddenly discover something new?

That is what happened to me when I recently travelled back from my writers’ retreat with the Liberta Hivies (and a few others).

It was a dreich day…

raincloudsDespite the weather, we were taking the scenic route home…

mailcoach print

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the old coaching road. Mailcoaches used this road in the 19th century to carry the mail between Dumfries and Edinburgh.

We have all seen pictures of the mailcoach dashing through the countryside, horn blaring, but did you know there is a monument? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out more about that. Continue reading

Sarah Mallory: Living and writing in the Scottish Highlands.

Those who know me from Social media will probably realise that I have moved. A big move. Massive. After 30 years in one house I have moved to the Scottish Highlands.   To Wester Ross. It has been described as Britain’s last great wilderness, and with good reason. Moving here is not just another country, it is another life and a very different one. The language is almost the same. Almost, but not quite. One has to think more about it. No one asks where you live, it is where are you staying, as if you are just passing through.

Hospitality is generous, tea, cake or biscuits are often offered as a matter of course. Which means I need to brush up on my baking skills.

Okay, I doubt I will EVER bake anything this good!

The Scottish Highlands from a writer’s point of view

I travel through this land with my writer’s hat on. The landscape feels old. Continue reading

Nourishment for the Soul (but no escaping literature)

Today I am calm, relaxed. I wanted to share that with you.

The reason?

I have just returned from a few days touring the Highlands. The North Coast 500 to be exact. And what has this to do with writing, you may ask? Well, it does us all good to get away from the desk occasionally, to be inspired by new locations, different ways of life.

Nourishment for the soul

Continue reading

Spring gladdens the writer’s heart

It’s the end of March. The Vernal Equinox is past. We can properly talk about Spring.

spring sunshine, trees and snowviolets in springOf course, by the time this blog is published, it may be snowing again, but we don’t have a crystal ball here in the Libertà hive. So…

Instead, to gladden hearts and look forward to lighter, brighter days, we asked each hive member to give us a flavour of the things she most looks forward to with the coming of Spring. Violets rather than snow? Continue reading

A Moving Post (if you’ll excuse the pun) : Liz and Sarah tell all

Moving is never easy

moving day boxesLiz: Moving is a two-way problem. Either you’re upsizing, in which case you don’t have enough furniture, or downsizing, in which case you have too much of everything.

moving van awaits

My Old Man said Follow the Van…

 

 

 

Sarah: To make things worse, I moved twice within twelve months (I know, madness, but we had A Plan… more of that later).

moving boxes ready to load

Liz: Aargh! I have just downsized from a five bedroom, four reception house to a two bedroom flat. I had too much of everything and what I’d have liked to have kept was mostly the wrong size. Where on earth do you start!

moving preparationsSarah: I know exactly what you mean!  We had a dream of moving to the west coast of Scotland but we had no property in mind when we moved out of our old house, so no idea what we would need to keep. All I knew was that we would not need much Continue reading

Halloween imports we could do without? A Damely rant

fireworks for halloween and bonfire night

Bonfire night and Halloween will be over by the time you read this. [And yes, I do know that the proper spelling is Hallowe’en, but the internet doesn’t cope well with apostrophes, so I’ve had to use the non-apostrophe spelling variant.]

Bonfire night, for all its somewhat gory associations, is at least a British tradition.

But Halloween? That Trick Or Treat abomination that seems to be everywhere? Rant time. 
halloween, trick or treater

By Don Scarborough (family photo) CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

A classic American Trick-or-Treater. Note that huge bag for the haul of goodies. Continue reading

Stirling Castle & Mary Queen of Scots’ Dad!

Stirling Castle, sitting on extinct volcano

Apologies for the tongue-in-cheek title to this post. I’m guessing that if I had headed it “Stirling Castle and James V”, quite a few of our readers would have said, “Who he?”

Stirling's statue of James V as Old Testament prophetHe is James V, King of Scots. Yes, he was the father of the rather better-known Mary, Queen of Scots.
James V and Stirling Castle had quite a relationship. (And did you know that the mound on which the castle sits is actually an extinct volcano?)

Portrait of James V of ScotlandBoth these images represent James V. In the statue, he has a long flowing beard, like an Old Testament prophet, ready to usher in a golden age for Scotland. In the portrait, he has his normal neat beard and gorgeous clothes.
He didn’t make it to prophet status. James died when he was just 30, leaving one legitimate child (Mary), who was only 6 days old. James also left at least 9 illegitimate children, so he was definitely neither saint nor prophet 😉 Continue reading

Forth Bridge #3 — the Queensferry Crossing

Forth bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

Forth Bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

A few days ago, on 4th September 2017 to be exact, the Queen opened the #3 crossing of the River Forth, at Queensferry. The date was chosen, I assume, because it was 53 years to the day since she had opened the #2 crossing, the original Forth Road Bridge, back in 1964 (shown below with the Queensferry Crossing beyond).

Forth Bridge #2 the Forth Road bridge

The Queen did not, of course, open the original Forth Bridge; that was done by her great-grandfather, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1890. Continue reading