Wendy Clarke : The Balancing Act of Suspense and Romantic Suspense

So, helping me celebrate the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s 60th anniversary this week is suspense writer Wendy Clarke who explains how the romantic suspense tips into the suspense of her writing.

Romantic suspense comes in many forms, how would you describe the sort you write?

Depending on how you look at it, my debut novel, What She Saw, could either be described as a psychological thriller or a romantic suspense. I think this would depend on whether it’s the relationship between the characters that’s important to you as a reader or the plot. I would say that the novel is primarily a suspense but has romance woven through it in the sub-plot.

Is it as straightforward as calling it a romance?

I would say romantic suspense is definitely not as straightforward as calling it a romance. In a romance, you would usually look for two things, a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. There is a lot more leeway for shades of grey (forgive the comparison) in a romantic suspense novel. The romance may or may not be the central theme (in my novel it isn’t) and there might not be a happy ending for your lovers. Because romance isn’t the main theme, it can be difficult to tell the point when a thriller tips into a romantic suspense.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it?

Although my intention had never been to write a straightforward romance as my first novel, when I wrote my debut thriller, it was impossible not to be influenced by the hundreds of romantic short stories I’d had published in magazines in the years before. For me, this merging of elements was a perfect way to start my novel-writing journey.

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have.

Although romance in What She Saw is integral to my story, the novel is weighted more heavily towards the thriller element. I would say 70-30 in favour of the suspense. I am moving away from the romance element though and my second suspense, We Were Sisters, contains very little.

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

I haven’t come across any misconceptions, as What She Saw is marketed as a psychological thriller rather than a romantic suspense. Luckily, readers of my novel seem to have embraced the slightly slower build-up and higher emotion stakes that the hidden romantic suspense genre gives to my writing. I hope it’s because I’ve managed to deliver the right amount of relationship development while filling the plot with danger and intrigue. What ever it is, I loved writing What She saw.


We Were Sisters and is about an over-protective young mother, Kelly, who is struggling after the birth of her third child. One day, she finds a locket in her baby’s pushchair. It was the one her foster-sister Freya had been wearing when she died. The find brings back haunting memories of Kelly’s lonely childhood and she fears someone from her past wants to harm her family. Slowly but surely, her well-ordered life begins to unravel.