As the Romantic Novelists’ Association celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, I’ve been running a series of posts on the topic of romantic suspense. I’m delighted to welcome Eleanor Harkstead as my guest today to not only talk about the genre, but to celebrate publication day.
Eleanor has co-written The Colour of Mermaids with Catherine Curzon.
Romance and romantic suspense comes in many forms, not just the hearts and flowers relationships but the toxic and damaging ones too, how would you describe the romance included within your novels?
The Colour of Mermaidsand The Man in Room 423are about relationships between people who start off as strangers to each other. Both novels explore that “should I, shouldn’t I?” moment when a woman is faced with the choice of being intimate with a man she’s only just met. The novels ask, too, “How well can I ever know my partner?” So although the relationships aren’t toxic, they’re not hearts and flowers — at least not to begin with.
Our m/m romantic suspense, which will be out in a few months’ time, contains a rather more hearts and flowers romance. It’s called The Reluctant Royal and is about a royal bodyguard and the man he’s protecting. Risk and suspense come from outside the novel’s central relationship. The couple aren’t strangers, but are forced to live in close quarters. Faced with their mutual attraction, and peril all around them, it should be no surprise that romance blossoms.
Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?
I think it’s important to flag up the suspense elements in the stories because for some romance readers, risk and peril might not be their cup of tea. For fans of the genre, though, that’s the appeal: a story that combines suspense as well as romance. It’s romance with bells on! And of course, having romancein the title suggests the ending will be a happy ever after, or at least a happy for now. But it’s a dangerous path to the finish line.
What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?
We write romance without suspense, too (we’ve written historicals, romcoms, gothics, you name it!), but it’s fun to write suspense sometimes because you’re laying out clues, building tension, creating and resolving a mystery. Of course, a story that doesn’t have suspense elements needs tension and often clues that lead towards some sort of truth that the protagonists are reaching for, but suspense and crime push those aspects of storytelling to the foreground.
What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?
We have about an equal balance between the two. I suppose the difference between romantic suspense and a straightforward crime novel is that romance is an important strand in the story. Crime novels can have romantic elements — many of them have sensual scenes, or implied ones, but it can’t be a major theme. I’ve heard crime readers complain if they discover too much relationship business in novels sold as a straight crime novel. They want bad deeds and someone to resolve them, but romance only as a side dish, if at all.
But the thing is that a lot of crime fiction doescontain romance, of a kind. It is, after all, part of being human. Even in classic crime fiction like the Maigret novels, Maigret’s wife and their relationship is important to the stories because she anchors him in a “normal” world, while his job as a detective takes him to dark places.
Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?
I’m sure other romantic suspense authors will say the same, but there’s an assumption that the romance element in romantic suspense distracts from the suspense and makes them less crime-y, and not to be taken all that seriously.
It’s a shame, because a great deal of care is required when plotting and writing romantic suspense. You have to maintain the balance between solving the mystery and developing the protagonists’ relationship, and I personally like the kind of romantic suspense that casts doubt on the person the protagonist is on the verge of falling in love with. So you have to show whythe character is falling for them, and at the same time entertaining doubts. Why do they doubt them? How — if at all — do they overcome those doubts?
Can I trust this person?
It’s a fundamental question people ask in real life when they’re opening themselves up to a relationship, and I think those very real anxieties need to be clear to the readers for these kinds of stories to work. And fiction is the perfect place for us to explore our fears, as well as our desires. Which is why romantic suspense works.
The Colour of Mermaidsby Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead is published on 24th March by Totally Bound in ebook and paperback. https://mybook.to/thecolourofmermaids
When artist Eva Catesby is invited to an exhibition in honour of art world enfant terrible Daniel Scott, she’s expected to follow the crowd and sing his praises. Instead she tells him what she really thinks and sparks fly. As they plunge headlong into a wild affair, Eva becomes the target of unwanted attention from an unseen enemy.
Daniel Scott is famous for his paintings. Filled with darkness and tormented imagery, his canvases are as mysterious as his background. Until he meets Eva, Daniel is a stranger to criticism and doesn’t know what it means to fall in love.
Can Eva help Daniel overcome his childhood demons or will a fatal secret from the past destroy their future?
The Man in Room 423 will be published on 5th May.
Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead began writing together in the spring of 2017 and swiftly discovered a shared love of sauce, well-dressed gents and a uniquely British sort of romance. They drink gallons of tea, spend hours discussing the importance of good tailoring and are never at a loss for a double entendre.
They are the authors of numerous short stories and two novel series, the de Chastelaine Chronicles, and the Captivating Captains, published by Totally Bound and Pride. Their novel The Ghost Gardenhas been shortlisted for the 2020 Romantic Novel Awards.
Sign up to our newsletter and receive our free, exclusive short story “Brighton Beaux”. https://curzonharkstead.co.uk/newsletter