Dear 'whichever Betty is reading this'
I have recently become addicted to Betty Neels books and have enjoyed visiting your blog and reading the posts there.
Betty Neels was someone whom I'd loved to have met/shared a chat with... but as that is no longer even a possibility, I decided to 'write out' how I feel/what appeals to me about her work.
I thought you might be interested in another readers' thoughts?
In Honour of Betty Neels
A few months back, I wasn’t feeling well… in fact, I’d slipped into being pretty sorry for myself, due to a painful ear infection that still won’t go away.
Betty Neels saved me from being miserable.
You see, whilst I was in the ‘feeling sorry for myself’ phase, I was also wanting to do nothing but read. I love reading, can’t get enough of books sometimes, and I have a somewhat eclectic taste, too… but even my favourite ‘comfort read’ titles (romances that always have a happy ending) weren’t quite hitting the mark. So I sat, and I thought about all the books I’d read so far, trying to pull up titles from my memory that had been sweet and unchallenging… simply a pleasure to read, with no need for character analysis or a fierce debate with myself regarding plot development.
And that’s when I half remembered a title… something from the period in my life when I used to sneak my mother’s Mills & Boons books up to my bedroom and sigh over all the gorgeous, if highly improbable, men and relationships between their pages. A Gem of…a Girl? Who wrote that? Was I even remembering it right? Out came my faithful laptop, and the search began.
A couple of days later, I’d not only found and read ‘A Gem of a Girl’ (and been surprised by how well I remembered it) but I also had ‘Sister Peters goes to Amsterdam’ sitting on my kindle, awaiting my attention… as it transpired, this was but the thin end of the wedge! I now have four pages on my kindle devoted to Betty’s sweet and entertaining stories. Something about them attracted me to such an extent that I was more than happy to pay £2.99 for each title. When you consider that Betty wrote around 134 books… to buy them all would be quite an investment!
Unfortunately, whoever put her titles onto kindle doesn’t seem to have been a fan of her work/taken pride in their job… there were errors that required careful thought on my part, in order to discover what word should have been there, some highlighted errors, and also words without spaces between them. I found it shocking that a mainstream publisher like Mills & Boon would have allowed this to happen, especially when there are so many critics out there who appear to think this is only a fault found in independent titles.
Being an author myself, I also found that I couldn’t just let the idea of ‘I enjoy these’ sit in my head, unexplored. Why did I enjoy them? They’re set in a time when a lot of women gave up their careers when they married, and some of the heroes would likely be classed as stalkers in today’s society. So what was it about Betty’s books that captured my attention?
Well, the Cinderella aspect for one. Reading is sometimes just a means of escaping reality – so why not go the whole hog and indulge in reading the reworking of a fairy-tale? Also, the strange juxtaposition of a heroine who dreamed of being whisked away from her everyday life by a rich, handsome hero… and yet often displayed thrifty habits that had been ingrained in them by a ‘short of cash’ existence. In Betty’s books you’ll find a make-do-and-mend philosophy, stiff upper lips, and families that pull together in a crisis… women who bake, sew and knit (something today’s society seems to be turning back to, with television programmes like ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ regularly topping the viewing charts) and there are detailed descriptions of places and buildings, written in a prosaic, yet light style, that brings them alive for the reader.
Suddenly, I have an urge to visit certain areas of England, and the Netherlands, in order to see the villages she writes about… the old houses and museums. How much will have changed? Will any of it still be recognisable? Are the people as friendly as she describes…
And that’s another thing about Betty’s books: the people. There are, it’s true, stereotypes galore (every leather-clad biker is obviously up to no good!) but there are also doctors and nurses performing procedures and operations that you just know the author is describing realistically (for the time), professors who are measured in their outlook on life and who know exactly what they want to achieve. Heroes and heroines who have jobs and careers that they’re pretty happy with… if it weren’t for the loneliness—Betty takes them all and weaves romances for her characters that are chaste, gentle, and respectful, with only a hint of hidden passion (buried deep) and, more often than not, the sort of love that makes one character determined to devote themselves to keeping the other happy – even if it means sacrificing something important… like their own happiness.
And for those who still consider her plots to be unrealistic – even for their time? Well, I’d say they were more ‘rare’, but not impossible. I recently got into conversation with a woman in her seventies, who reminisced about her own ‘romance’ - between herself (she was a secretary at MIT at the time) and her soon-to-be husband (a visiting English ‘professor’) and you know what? Betty Neels could have written that story…
Today, women who choose to stay at home and raise their children/take care of their homes are often denigrated as not contributing to society or being less worthy than those who have full-time careers… which is rather strange, when women’s liberation was surely about women having the right to choose how they live their lives? Betty’s books champion those women – and she certainly doesn’t advocate laziness!
Add in an understated humour and the occasional, glorious, burst of temper… and you have stories that possess a lot more depth than may, at first, be apparent.
Betty Neels didn’t just have fans during her lifetime, her books continue to sell today to the next generation of readers, who are often reading on ‘e-readers’. With millions of books available for the Amazon kindle alone, the majority of her books are well under the 100,000 ranking, with many under the 50,000 mark and some under 20,000. There are over 134 of them, quietly continuing to sell, to a reading audience whom the press would have us believe detests this kind of fiction… If slow and steady wins the race, then Betty knew a thing or two about the wisdom of avoiding flashy plotlines and sticking to what she did best, in order to create stories that readers are still enjoying over a decade after her death.
She may have been an author who took up writing romances in response to an overheard conversation in a library, and maybe as a way of filling her retirement – but she went on to produce (on average) 4-5 titles a year across a career lasting 3 decades (continuing to write into her 90th year) and that is something I can only admire. As an author, I look to Betty Neels and authors like her, and see a wealth of possibilities. Who knows, maybe, one day, I’ll write a love story of my own, in honour of her long-lasting career—whilst wearing, of course, an uncrushable jersey dress!
Thanks again for providing Betty Neels' fans from around the world with an excellent blog about her work.
Best Wishes for the future.
Yours sincerelyBetty Sue