Makes You Proud to Be A Romance Writer
Some of you may know that my mother gave me my first Mills and Boon (better known in America as Harlequin Romances) when I was eight years old in a desperate attempt to shut me up. Romance novels have been shutting me up ever since! You can find a piece about my early romantic reading in My Favorite Things from February 2011.
This October, I was lucky enough to go to GenreCon at the State Library of Queensland. Included in the conference was a special guided tour of the library’s romance collections. Mainly Queensland authors (although I was disturbed to notice that they didn’t have all of my books – something we must remedy!). Looking at all those old-style covers made me think of the romances I’d loved growing up.
One author I absolutely adored was Mary Burchell, especially her books set around the world of opera and classical music. The Warrender series launched with A Song Begins in 1965 and ended 13 books later with On Wings of Song in 1985. They featured sexy but cranky conductor Oscar Warrender and his lovely wife, opera singer Anthea. Oscar was clever but not always emotionally intelligent. Anthea added heart to his ruthless brilliance. Such great characters!
Most of the books featured opera singers of various degrees of eccentricity, often as protagonists, sometimes just for local color. But my favorite was Love is Blind which was about a blind concert pianist and the girl who had caused the accident where he lost his sight. Oh, the angst! Oh, the passion! Oh, the scales and arpeggios! I think this one was to my particular taste because I played the piano. Whereas I can’t sing a note!
I must have read all these books fifty times each. They breathed authenticity. Mary Burchell knew this glamorous world well and there was a richness and detail in the setting that I miss occasionally in more recent stories. On the other hand, more recent stories have much steamier love scenes! Having said that, the final chapter where our embattled couple finally came together always really moved me. MB knew how to pack an emotional punch and with a subtlety and power that I still remember.
Imagine how thrilled I was a few years ago when I discovered that Mary Burchell was a heroine in real life. Thanks to Wikipedia for most of these details. You can read the article here.
Mary, whose real name was Ida Cook, and her sister helped to rescue 29 Jews from Nazi Germany. Not only that, but through their cleverness, they managed to bring out valuables that allowed the refugees to satisfy British residency requirements. In the 1930s, the Cook sisters would visit Germany to satisfy their passion for opera and when they left the country, they’d have a fortune in jewels pinned to their cheap coats. None of the border guards ever questioned whether this bling was real or not. A cheap coat equaled costume jewelry in their mind.
So a heroine and a wonderful writer! Sadly I no longer have my well-read and much loved paperbacks from the 1960s and 1970s (read the older My Favorite Things if you want details on why). I really must revisit these books. They cast a powerful spell over me when I was in my teens.
Oh, and even better, it turns out that Mary Burchell and I share a birthday!