Thursday, August 30, 2007

Thursday Talk Time With Kate Walker

My favourite category romance? Uh – no - can’t do it. Just can’t do that. My one working brain cell has fizzled and fused just at the thought. I mean – one favourite category romance in an umpty-ump year lifetime of reading category romances . . .

No – sorry . . .

But I’ve been asked to write something. And here with my lovely brand new Pink Heart Society Columnist logo all sparkly and fresh, I want to do the job that Trish and Ally have given me – so I have to think of something to say.

OK then, I can tell you about a favourite category romance author. A writer whose books I snatched off the shelves if I found one in a bookshop in the days before – and after – I was first published. When I got my first rejection letter from Mills & Boon, the then Senior Editor Jacqui Bianchi advised me to read certain authors who she felt wrote the sort of book I could write - and then try again. I read those – and saw what she meant. They were romances I could write. But then I picked up a book by Sara Craven – and I read the sort of romances I wanted to write. Sara Craven’s romances reached out, grabbed by the heart and the brain and they just made me want to be part of the company who published her work.

Sara was one of Mills & Boon’s stars back then in 1984 – and she’s still one of the big names in the Modern/Presents line up today. Incredibly, she’s been writing for M&B since 1975. That’s an amazing 32 years of writing top class contemporary romances - and she’s still selling. I’ve lost count of just how many books she has actually written.

I have a collection of older Sara Craven novels – starting with The Devil at Archangel in which Christina Bennett takes a job on an island in the West Indies where she meets the disturbing and charismatic Devlin Brandon. But having been warned to ‘Beware the Devil at Archangel’ - can she possibly trust him?

But the two books of Sara’s that really live in my memory, etched there from the moment I read them – so much so that I don’t even have to go and fetch my elderly and battered copies to remind myself about them – are the 1980 title Fugitive Wife and the wonderful Comparative Strangers that was published in 1988.

Fugitive Wife is singly responsible for my addiction to romances in which the couple are snowed in, trapped in an isolated cottage, cut off from anywhere else. In Sara’s story Bryony, a rich man’s daughter, young, (so young she’s fresh out of school!) falls for and marries the older, cynical, foreign correspondent Logan Adair, but the marriage fails and she runs to her Aunt’s isolated Yorkshire cottage to lick her wounds. She’s there all alone, determined to recover from the break down of her marriage when in the middle of a wild snowstorm another key turns in the lock, the front door opens,

. . and then the hall light clicked on and the words shrivelled and died on her lips as she looked down into the face of the man standing below her.
For a moment they stood in silence, staring at each other.
Then, ‘Hello, wife,’ said Logan with no expression in his voice whatsoever.

Oh dear – just writing that makes me want to go and read it all over again. I know what happens after that – how the snow comes down even more heavily and they are stuck in the small house together and they have to face the strains and the problems that wrenched them apart in the first place. And how Briony has to do some growing up – fast - both physically, as Logan insists that she shares his bed, and emotionally as she discovers the truth about her husband’s relationship with sophisticated Karen Wellesly.

But if you really forced me – at gunpoint – to choose just one, desert island, absolute favourite Sara Craven novel, then it would have to be the brilliant Comparative Strangers. It’s a book I bought twice, once in the original printing – and then sadly lost it. So I was overjoyed when in 1993, the story was reprinted as a Best Seller Romance and I was able to replace my missing copy with this new edition.

Comparative Strangers opens with Amanda, the heroine, on the verge of suicide, feeling she has nothing to live for because she has found her fiancé, Nigel in bed with another woman. She is rescued by Malory Templeton, Nigel’s older half-brother. And here’s where Sara Craven’s brilliance is shown – because to Amanda Malory isn’t the man who is so stunning that women fall at his feet as soon as they see him - to Amanda he has always been a ‘vague disappointment , because she supposed she’d been expecting an older edition of Nigel, with the same outgoing charm and rakish good looks.’ Compared with his younger half-brother, is shorter, paler - Amanda even sees him as ‘colourless’.

At first.

Because from the moment that Malory rescues her, stopping her from jumping off a bridge into a river, he takes charge of her life. When in order to save face in front of Nigel, Amanda declares that she is going to marry Malory instead, he reacts quite calmly, but with total control.

“It’s quite simple,’ he said. ‘You’ve told the world, through Nigel, that you’re going to marry me. So – marry me you will. ‘

From then onwards Malory grows in stature and strength on every page. Subtly, but irreversibly, the reader is brought to change her opinion of this quiet but charismatic man, just as Amanda comes to see his strength and his qualities, his understated sexual appeal – until, when Nigel reappears he seems flashy, immature and downright shallow in comparison. Virginal Amanda had never wanted to sleep with her first fiancé before her wedding night, but he responses to Malory are much harder to suppress.

And this leads to the two scenes that etched this book forever into my brain so that I can almost repeat them word for word. (A skill I discovered that at the recent RNA Conference Sophie Weston shares with me – as we share a love for this book.)

Unable to hold back any longer, Amanda decides to sleep with Malory , but innocent and naïve, she reaches for him touches him, ruining his careful control. As a result her first sexual experience is painful, disappointing and forces from her the stunned question ‘Is that - that – what all the fuss is about?’

There will never be another time, she declares.

But Malory has other ideas. A few days later, he sets himself to a determined and skillful seduction of Amanda, teasing all her senses, awakening all her untried sensuality, bringing her to her very first orgasm. And then, when she is still reeling . . .

. . .The shock of finding herself deposited back on the sofa woke her sharply from her dream. His hands were brisk, almost businesslike as he ordered her dishevelled clothing, pulling her dress into place and reclosing the zip.

Then he got to his feet. He said quietly and evenly, ‘Now that – that – is what all the fuss is about. Goodnight Amanda.’

Perfect. I remember almost cheering out loud the first time I read it. It was the memory of that line that had me grabbing the book to buy it a second time when it appeared as a bestseller - in the treasured copy that Sara Craven signed for me as a fellow author and friend when I met her in person for the second time at the RNA one day Seminar in Bath about ten years ago.

And to judge by the cheer of delight that greeted Sophie Weston’s recounting of that scene at the Conference, almost 20 years after it was first published, it still has the power to hit home.

Not many authors can take a ‘colourless’, ‘vague disappointment’ of a man and make him grow inch by inch, page by page, into the perfect, powerful, forceful, sexy Alpha hero. I’m not sure if any one could get away with it in these days of Signor Tall, Dark and Instantly Devastatingly Handsome Presents-style heroes. But I know one thing, if there’s anyone writing today who could still pull it off then it’s Sara Craven herself – still writing wonderful romances just as she was over 30 years ago.

Which is why I’m still grabbing them off the shelves just as soon as I see them.

Kate has recently had her fiftieth, yes 50th book released worldwide! She had a fantastic blog party with 50 special guests which was too much fun for words.

And though the party's over, the book is still out there for you to buy and enjoy. So pick up a copy of THE SICILIAN'S RED-HOT REVENGE today!


  1. Oh, heavens, Kate, how did I miss that one of Sara Craven's. I have so many of hers on my "keeper" shelf. I'll be haunting "bookfinder" until I track it down. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. Oh you have described it so well, Kate. Mallory is all banked-down fire. Sara Craven is amazing the way she conveys that hidden intensity, in spite of his determinedly unemotional speech and manner and what everyone else says about him - particularly his brother, a glamour knickers racing driver.

    And his revelation at the end actually makes this hardened harridan weep a bit.

    As an author I'm in awe; as a reader I'm just grateful. You won't be disappointed, Anne. Go find it!


  3. Kate, I love Sara Cravens books and I love yours as well. I just finished reading your book The Sicilians Red Hot Revenge and as usual, with all of your books, I wasn't disappointed.
    Congratulations on your 50th and may you write many more books in the future for us readers to enjoy. Mads:)

  4. Anne - you never read this one?? Dear me - I shall have to join you in the hunt. If I find one first I'll let you know. You have to read it.

    Doesnt she Sophie? I knew you and I were alike and the minute you started to quote that scene, I knew just how much. Wonderful isn't it?

    Hi Mads - and thank you - a heatfelt thank you that you're talking of my books and those of one of my writing heroines in the same breath. You must have very good taste :o )

    Thank you for saying how much you enjoyed The Sicilian's Red-Hot Revenge - and for those congratulations. I hope you'll enjoy the books I have coming up for you . . which reminds me - must get back to work before my editor comes looking for me with her whip!


  5. Oh Kate, you've brought back some wonderful memories for me of those early Mills and Boon, not just Sara Craven's books but all those fantastic books from the 70s and 80s. I kind of feel sorry for all those who missed reading the books back then. With so much to chose from these days, it's hard to imagine how exciting it was buying that month's selection and reading them one after another - and savouring every single one of them, every single word.

    Aah, those were the days!

    "Australian Millionaires"
    "The Executive's Vengeful Seduction"
    Silhouette Desire Aug 07

  6. OMG. I remember those two. And do you know, I actually REMEMBER THE WORDS you quoted. That's scary.

    And also a tribute to what a fantastic writer Sara Craven is. (She's also a lovely woman in person. And her books are the ones that made me realise I wanted to write M&Bs because I loved the stories.)

    Thanks for the memories, Kate.