Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Popping In

Hello Mothership Bettys!  We got this darling gem in our email in-box and thought we had to share:

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 sincerely
Betty Sue

10 comments:

  1. Thank you, Betty Sue, for sharing your insights. Well put!

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  2. Love! Well said.

    Betty AnoninTX

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  3. So beautifully said!

    I'd like to share my experience with "finding" Betty Neels--I have a feeling I'll have a sympathetic group here.

    Over the past few years I've been having a hard time. My father became ill, then died. I was in a horrible job, then found a new job that I love but might be threatened by cutbacks. Overall, not a good time.

    I had been reading mysteries, nothing else. Then I started to drift into what my mother and I call "older lady fiction"--books by Miss Read, D.E. Stevenson, etc.. The term "older lady fiction" came from a discussion I had with a lady at a library book sale, who called the books I was buying "books for us older ladies". Since I'll admit to middle age but not old age, I was a little amused by it and my mother and I have used the term ever since to describe what we now both read.

    Anyway, at another library booksale I saw a whole bunch of Betty Neels books. I'd heard about her. She is mentioned every once in awhile on blogger posts about the other types of books I read. But I was a little snobbish and thought "A Harlequin romance? I don't think so."

    But I really wasn't finding much else at the booksale so I bought one of the Betty Neels. I can't remember which one it was offhand, but it was one of the later ones. I started reading it thinking that if I liked it, I'd go back to the booksale on half price day and buy one or two more.

    I liked it. I liked it so much I went back to the booksale and bought 64 more Betty Neels books!

    Now, about six months and a few more booksales later, I have all but 16 of her books, and I've read the majority of them.

    What do I like about them? The sweetness and independence of the female leads most of all. Some are a little too weepy for me but for the most part they are "get it done" sort of gals. If the RDD or the RBD decided to stick with his little stick figure fiancee you know our Betty heroines would just straighten their shoulders, smile bravely, and return to their nursing ward (or job stacking cans in the supermarket) and do the best they could.

    But luckily the RD/BD is smart enough to see a good thing when he sees it and whisks our gal off to a life of luxury and lots of little evidences of connubial affection to make their lives interesting.

    And one more thing I love about Betty Neels? That she inspired this brilliant website. After reading about ten books I was murmuring to myself things like, "gee, Betty Neels sure was fascinated by 'undies', wasn't she?" and "another sapphire and diamond engagement ring? Is that standard issue in Holland or something?" So when I found this website where such questions were pondered by others I knew I'd found my people.

    Thank you for this website and for supporting my love of the Great Betty Neels.

    Betty Melissa

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  4. Betty Melissa, I love this story (except for the part where your father dies; condolences on that). You have captured my experience of Betty as well. Thank you for sharing that.

    And Betty Sue, thanks for your commentary as well. While I don't believe the England (or even Netherlands) of Betty's romances ever truly existed, I do like to visit there and sink into its myriad delights.

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  5. Betty Sue and Betty Melissa, thank you for sharing. I agree with all that you have said.

    My first Neels book was, believe it or not, A Hasty Marriage, and I rather liked it. Years later, I read Off with the Old Love, and something clicked. For years thereafter, I trawled through piles and piles of dusty books in used books stores in several cities in India and even in the Bay Area, and slowly built up my collection. Every new find would make my heart leap. For the final four or five, I bought e-versions.

    What do I like most? For one thing, she is a really good writer and can, in a few words or sentences, project a mood or a character as almost no other M&B/Harlequin authors I've read can. The other thing I like is that in her books, nice girls win at the end! Which is never the case in almost every other type of fiction one reads either today or in TGB's time, nor in movies & TV shows.

    Betty unashamedly and repeatedly projects a perhaps old-fashioned "honourable" approach towards love, and doing the right thing. I've always thought that this is probably the reason her favourite book is said to be Jane Eyre, and favourite movie Brief Encounter. Although I don't quite agree with the extent to which some of the heroes in the canon carry this "being honourable", I do respect the sentiment.

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  6. Betty Sue, Betty Melissa & Betty Priya,
    All of you, hear hear!! Beautifully worded and heartfelt and understood! I tell my husband that Betty Neels is cheaper than a therapist and nothing uplifts me more than a good read..or several! I love that I have found a place where everyone feels similar and it really amazes me how many of us started reading Harlequin/B&M at such a young age!! I am pretty sure I was in 5th or 6th grade...what was my Mother thinking?! LOL Thank you for this site and the FB site (all who are involved in that set up) I get a quick lift during the day :D xo
    Debs

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  7. I have loved Betty for years and years and your comments got me thinking about why I love these books so. I don't know how many I own or how many I've read, I buy them new, used or in eBook format from anywhere I I can find them including batches from eBay. I began reading Harlequin young as well and at the time I did not enjoy Mrs Neels. Her stories were excessively chaste and I deemed them boring. Flash forward twenty years and I believe beyond the escapism of the Cinderella fantasy, I like the chastity. A romance builds based on how our heroine treats others, her honor, who she is rather than her looks even if she's beautiful. Our RDDs are always good at heart too. I like the lack of blinding passion, they see each other and over time build something that will last a lifetime.

    My mother and I were avid Betty readers, in fact my last Christmas present to her was the lot of 25+ Betty books from eBay. I didn't get to fully share this site with her before she passed, but here I have others who can marvel at how many times Betty's people require feeding in 24 hour span. Its got to be at least six. LOL

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  8. I fondly remember spending the last couple of days of a vacation in an English speaking country more than ten years back AT THE LIBRARY which was located almost on my doorstep READING as many BETTY NEELS NOVELS that I had not read before as I could. Bliss.

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  9. Betty Sue (Now Betty Sue 'G')June 6, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    Dear Bettys,

    I almost wish there was a 'like' button next to the posts here. (I love that function on Facebook, because even if you have nothing to say, you can show that you're there and reading what's being posted!) I've loved reading the different Bettys' responses to my post (how each of you found Betty Neels' work), and it's wonderful that we have a chance to connect with each other on this site - with other readers who share our enthusiasm and know the true value of a Betty Neels story.

    Looking forward to getting to know more Bettys through this site and the FB page.

    So pleased to 'meet' you all!

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    1. Betty Sue, it's a great pleasure to have you around!

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