I make no apologies for reprinting it here because I want to mark the birthday of a very special lady, a very special writer and a very special friend all rolled into one Sara Craven
I have to admit that I'm not totally sure of the exact date of Sara's birthday as she hadn't told me that. But when I was with her at the Presents Authors' dinner, the night before AMBA, she told me then that her birthday was 'in two weeks'. So, as that was 16th September, and today is two weeks from that day, I'm hoping that I'm at least coming close to the important day.
I want to mark Sara's birthday as she has been important to me as a writer both published and as a student of romance, as a reader, and as a personal friend. I still can't quite believe that I can count her as one of my friends and if someone had told me, when I was trying so hard to get my first book ever published 25 years ago that one day I would be able to invite her to dinner and greet her as that friend, I would have felt that that would be a dream come true. (It was actually - very special.)
So, as I said - without any apology - here is my 'Favourite Romance' writer post from the PHS 2007:
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 35 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’.
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 both Sophie Weston and Sharon Kendrick share 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 intimately, 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 15 years ago.
And to judge by the cheer of delight that greeted Sophie Weston’s recounting of that scene at an RNA 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.