-- Guest Post by Jane Cable
“She didn’t want to go to a place that he hadn’t marked, just as she couldn’t throw away the tubs of play dough still pitted with his fingers.”
The moment she read those words I knew that Madeleine Reiss would win the competition; standing in the TV studio, lights as heavy for rehearsal as they would be for the real thing, some of the tension drained from me. There was a sense of disappointment, yes, but no shame at being beaten by a more accomplished writer – even in front of 10 million viewers.
In 2011 the UK’s most popular afternoon TV programme, The Alan Titchmarsh Show, launched a competition to find a new novelist. The prize was a deal with Harper Collins and almost 1,000 writers entered. In the studio for the finals were the winners of each of the four televised heats; historical, thriller, women’s fiction and suspense & crime.
My book, The Cheesemaker’s House, had won the suspense & crime category and Madeleine’s, then called Brancaster, now published as Someone to Watch Over Me, women’s fiction. In reality the genres could have been reversed – in fact maybe they should have been; my book is romance-suspense whereas Madeleine’s is definitely the other way around. I thought perhaps hers was considered women’s fiction because of the way she describes almost everything her heroine is wearing but the author’s own view is because it’s “a bit of a sob-fest”.
Now that Someone to Watch Over Me has been published and The Cheesemaker’s House will be joining it in the bookstores very shortly I find it interesting to compare the two. Both grip you from the first few chapters; both deal with coming to terms with loss and the spirit world; both evoke strong images of the English countryside and both have moments of laugh-out-loud humour. The competition’s organisers had surely separated them to ensure that two of the strongest entries had a chance of reaching the showcase final.
The actual stories are very different, but also the way in which they are told. Madeleine describes everything in the most entrancing detail, leaving the reader in no doubt about where they are and what the characters are seeing. My own writing is spare, economical, offering the reader just enough to move the story on. Madeleine creates tension by chopping the narrative from one character to another; for me it’s done by taking the tunnel-vision of only the heroine’s viewpoint.
One thing I am sure about is, however different the books, the same readers are going to enjoy them. Readers who are bored by predictable boy-meets-girl romances and frustrated by many publishers’ reluctance to bring out cross-genre novels that can’t be easily categorised. I’m sure it’s no co-incidence that both have achieved publication not through the slush-pile, but through success in competition.
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