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First Date x Indie Bookshop Week: Mhairi McFarlane


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Independent Bookshop Week has arrived and this year it finds us gearing up for Scotland's inaugural festival for romance writing: First Date  takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on June 25th.

If you're not in Edinburgh for it, fear not. The panels will not only be livestreamed, but we've also invited some of our favourite authors of romance fiction from further afield to take part in the celebrations virtually by recommending their favourite romance reads!

In the penultimate instalment of our series, it's time for Mhairi McFarlane to share thoughts on what makes a great romance in fiction.

Sunday Times bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels and her first book, You Had Me At Hello, was an instant success. She’s now written eight books and she lives in Nottingham with a man and a cat.

Here's Mhairi with her recommendations!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

It’s a terrible cliché to include Jane Austen yes, but there’s good reason why we all revere her. My first novel You Had Me At Hello was a full on homage to Persuasion – my maternal gran’s favourite book – complete with a dinner party scene where our love interest excoriates the heroine for her past conduct, and only the two of them understand that he’s attacking her.

The longing and regret and sense it won’t all turn out well for Anne makes it so agonising, and so perfect. Haven’t we all yearned to revisit a foolish youthful decision?

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

You know the 1940s talkies where Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant trade rapid fire zingers, while falling for each other? Sally Thorne’s witty, enemies to lovers workplace rivals tale is like that genre of movie in book form. A story that crackles with the wicked fun the author’s clearly having, and manages the rare feat of genuinely spicy yet not embarrassing sex scenes.

One Day by David Nicholls

It’s almost fifteen years since One Day was published and it still straddles the ‘poignant modern romance’ category like a colossus, nor does it date. Superficial, flippant Dexter and everywoman, self effacing Emma are so well drawn and the observational social history as they come together and pull apart down the years is brilliantly done. Nicholls never wastes a word. I still recall the beta male, comedian ex drinking “a pail of Lilt* the size of a torso.” (*may be Fanta)

Forever by Judy Blume

I read this as a pre teen and I felt so fully immersed in it, it was like it was my first romance by proxy! Katherine and Michael’s coming of age story is so emotionally intelligent, well rendered and honest about sex, it is depressing and incredible that any library would ban it. Blume is never preachy but always so thoughtful and responsible in her storytelling. For some reason, the lines that have lived in my head ever since are none of the smut about “Ralph,” but Katherine feeling so happy about life that she wanted to spontaneously hug people, but that being ‘a bad idea’ on the streets of New York. 11 year old me was clearly more intrigued by the idea of that exotic metropolis than the shagging. Sex and the city, indeed.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I’d include this on the strength of the jacket artwork alone to be honest, a thing of absolute beauty. I am a huge sucker for teenage nostalgia and revisiting the rawness, pain, terror and joy of your formative experiences. Everything hurt more back then, but equally the highs are higher. It’s like life in High Definition. Eleanor and Park - the ‘star crossed misfits,’ the story told across a year in 1986 - perfectly describes the claustrophobic hell of school and the unexpected, dizzying heaven of finding a soulmate. Romance as a genre tends to be associated with love at first sight, claps of thunder, but more often, it reminds us how powerful feelings creep up on you.

Follow #FirstDateFestival on social media and keep an eye out for more recommended romance reads through Independent Bookshop Week. Info about First Date Festival can be found HERE.

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