A Day in the Life of a Romantic Novelist


Back in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, writing at full tilt, my mother spent nearly every hour possible at the typewriter, in between looking after her five children and husband. On becoming an established author, she moved in 1977 from the outskirts of London to the Isle of Man - an independently governed tax haven in the Irish Sea - and bought a hilltop property above the quiet fishing village of Port St Mary, where her writing routine became - over time - more predictable.

There, she had her 'study' area installed in her bedroom, which afforded wonderful views of Port St Mary Bay with all its yachts and fishing boats - though she sat several feet back from the window, as though to prevent herself from being distracted by this glorious view. A heavy smoker at that time, she used the cigarettes to fuel and sustain her writing stamina, often not leaving her desk for hours on end. She also knocked back strong coffee while she wrote, making a flask early in the day and keeping it by her desk, habitually drinking it with Coffeemate, which kept it hot for longer and meant she didn't have to go downstairs to the kitchen for milk.

During the nineties, the last decade of her life, she gave up smoking, turned to decaffeinated coffee, and her writing pace slowed somewhat! The family moved to Crogga in 1989, another hilltop property, this time a white turreted mansion with extensive grounds and distant views of the sea, near the town of Douglas, the busy hub of the Island. Since it was a much larger house, about eighteen rooms, my mother had one of the smaller bedrooms converted to a personal office. The wages of romance had allowed her a room of her own, at last ...

Her new study was on a mezzanine level, just off the imposing main staircase and near the front door, which suited my mother, as she liked to see people coming and going while she worked, often leaving her study door open as though to encourage her children - and now grandchildren! - to drop by and 'disturb' her. Her window was heavily curtained with nets, which let the light in but did not distract her with the attractive view over fields towards the sea.

At Crogga, she generally worked a set number of hours per day, unlike her earlier more punishing routine of writing and writing until the book was finished. She rose at about 8am most days and was at her desk within half an hour, rarely bothering with any breakfast, just a coffee to get the blood pumping!

She would write steadily on her computer until noon or half past, pausing only to exchange the odd fax with an editor, agent or an old friend like Jay (fellow author Anne Weale), then would clock off for the rest of the day. As I recall, she usually aimed for a thousand words per session; once that figure was reached, she stopped work.

Lunch was either something simple at home like a salad or a more elaborate meal out at one of her favourite Island restaurants. In the afternoons, she either went out for a long drive or to the shops - garden centres were among her frequent haunts during the summer months. During these long drives - with my mother in the passenger seat, never having managed to pass her driving test! - she would often be turning over in her mind the plot of her most recent novel or working on some new idea not yet fully formed. Sometimes, if the weather was bad, she would stay home and recline on the sofa with her two obsequious spaniels, Rosie and Pippa, watching daytime television, often drama repeats on UK Gold.

The Bill was one of her favourite programmes, closely followed by television detective shows like Morse, Miss Marple and Poirot. A keen amateur cook, especially of the armchair variety, she loved cookery shows, programmes about food and was always amused by the more outrageous celebrity chefs. She was also keenly interested in shows like Oprah, finding them not only fun to watch but a useful source of psychological insights into how modern women view men.

In the evenings, she regularly went to bed early, around ten o'clock, but would spend several hours reading or watching a film in her bedroom before turning out the light. A voracious reader since her childhood, every week she would devour dozens of library books and secondhand paperbacks from charity shops, not to mention a handful of the latest bestsellers.

On holiday - usually in France, one of her favourite destinations - that number rose steeply. My mother knew all the English bookshops on the Riviera, buying copious supplies of novels in the first few days of each holiday. Once she had read them, she either took them back or left piles of paperbacks behind in holiday villas and hotels to save on the weight of her luggage. She nearly always managed to write on holiday too, often taking a typewriter with her - in later years a laptop - when she travelled by car.

Self-educated, she had read most of the classics over the years, her shelves packed with books and novels of every description. In terms of contemporary writing, she loved thrillers, crime novels in particular, romances and family sagas. Cookery books, especially historical or regional ones, or those with glossy and exotic photographs of beautifully prepared dishes, were everywhere in the house, even the downstairs toilet! She also regularly read biographies, most often those of her favourite writers; there was nearly always a biography or two 'on the go' next to her bed, with a little shred of paper sticking out to mark her place ...


  1. Jane, I enjoyed reading A Day In The Life Of A Romantic Novelist.

    As you mention, your mother and I exchanged letters, and later faxes, for almost 20 years, and I shall always miss reading her news and views.

    Last winter I began the task of sorting out this voluminous correspondence which I hope to complete next winter.

    I've been lucky enough to enjoy several long "pen friendships" with people whose interests I shared. The correspondence with Sheila, about our passion
    for books, was probably the most stimulating and rewarding. She was a remarkable woman.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Anne, they are very much appreciated.

    Yes, my mother was a remarkable woman, and thankfully her work continues to be widely read - even with most of her books out of print - through libraries and the vast network of secondhand booksellers throughout the world, both on and off the net, plus of course the traditional swopping of titles that still goes on between keen readers of romantic fiction.

    If anyone else reading this blog would like to comment on my mother's work or share a personal memory of her, you can either leave a comment after one of these blog posts or contact me via email (Click on View My Profile for details) to let me have a longer comment or article.

    Any compressed JPGs of photos taken at RNA or other writing-related events would be particularly welcome. Most of my personal photographs of my mother are typical holiday or Christmas snaps, and somehow I suspect she would not like to be remembered forever in her bathing suit or wearing a paper crown ...


  3. It was so nice to find your blog about one of my favorites. I started reading Charlotte Lamb as a teenager. While raising my children I "gave up" my reading habit. Now that the children are grown I've rediscovered Harlequin Presents and Charlotte. Did Anne Weale write for Harlequin in the late 70's or early 8o's? Very familiar name to me.
    I remember another author I enjoyed named Violet Winspear. I can't find any biographical information about her. Do you know where I might find something? Thank you.

  4. I wrote the last message...my name is Nancy Fisher

  5. I too loved Violet Winspear's books, which I first read in the late seventies as a teenager. I don't know if her fabulous name influenced my feelings about her novels, but her heroines seemed larger than life, highly sensitive and always on the verge of some intense romantic adventure. My mother loved her books too; there was usually a Winspear lying about somewhere during my childhood.

    Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing else about her. Perhaps another reader of this blog may be able to enlighten us with some biographical information on Ms. Winspear ...


  6. Thanks for giving me your feedback, by the way, Nancy. It's very much appreciated!

    Perhaps Anne will return at some point and reveal all about herself and her writing past ...


  7. If you click on Anne's name above, Nancy, it should take you to her profile and thence to her own blog ... a very useful journalistic blog for voracious readers called Bookworm on the Net!


  8. Thank you Jane....I do hope someone out there has information about Violet. In my memory those books were dark and exotic yet somehow unfulfilling. Perhaps it was editorial limits. I like the "saucier" Harlequins of the 21st century. I am going to order you mom's new book.

  9. Dear Jane

    For a long time now i found myself somehow starved with no books of mine to read ..those happened to be the books of your dear mother and Violet winspear whom i must say influenced my life like no other ..you may be surprised to know that their books where much loved here in that other side of the world ..THE EAST ..we loved them me and my friends smuggled them in school and spent nights dreaming about such romance ..i wish i had the chance to get my hands on more of them but seems im not so lucky i wrote to Ms. Mather and it was such a joy too i would`ve loved to have a chance to thank your mother but i guess one day i may have a chance and be there to thank her memory ..i`ll look for more of Ms. winspear works and hope ..my books are now locked in my abandoned room in Baghdad ..maybe i`ll go back there ..enjoy my memories and read again my books..thank you and thx for giving me the chance to say it


  10. Dear A.

    Thank you for such a wonderful and heartfelt message. My late mother would have been both delighted and honoured to know how much comfort and inspiration her books had given you and your friends. Even in school!

    Indeed, I read many of the best 70s and 80s Mills & Boon novels myself as a teenager, so can sympathise with the impact of pure romance when you're just beginning to get interested in the opposite sex. Mather and Winspear and Lamb. That was a golden age for romantic fiction, gone now forever, alas ...

    J. x

  11. Dear Jane,

    Thx for your sweet reply, indeed Mather, Winspear and Lamb mark the golden age of M&B, I wonder if you can help me contact anyone to help me with my research, I read that Miss Winspear's nephew Jonathan writes but I can't contact him, maybe you can help me with it?
    I will appreciate it.


  12. I'm afraid, once again, that I have no idea who her nephew is or how to contact him.

    Have you tied going through Mills & Boon? They may have a PR department that could help you. Alternatively, you could try contacting the Romantic Novelists Association. Jenny Haddon there has recently been putting together a history of the RNA.

    Also, I note there is an interesting Wikipedia page on Winspear. Someone who knows a lot about her work will have created that. Try going into the page's history and seeing who mostly compiled those entries, then attempt to message or contact them via their Wiki account.

    Sorry not to be more help. I wish you all the best.

    Best, Jane


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