From crime to rom-com – Claire McGowan

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By Claire McGowan

I got some strange responses when I said I’d written a romance novel. You see, I’m usually known for writing crime (under the name Claire McGowan), and fairly gory it can be too.♥

‘Are there….no bodies in it?’

Nope, my new rom-com The Thirty List (written as Eva Woods) is a death-free zone (though there might be a bit of cutting wit in there).

‘You mean no one dies horribly?’

That’s right, no characters were harmed in the writing of this book.

My favourite response of all: ‘Will you have to, you know, wear heels and things now?’ Leaving aside the implication that I’m not known for my glamour, the jury is still out on that one. But on the whole I’ve found it a smooth transition from being a crime writer to writing romance as well.

For a start, there are more similarities than you think. At the end of a crime novel, readers expect the case to be solved. It’s possible to leave some ambiguities, but not catching your killer can provoke even the most mild-mannered readers to murderous mutterings. In a romance novel, we generally expect the couple to get together at the end. Yet although both types of book have an ‘expected’ ending, you have to put in enough suspense and twists and turns so that the reader is not totally certain they’ll get what they want. Or how or when.

Also common to both types of book is that we should be desperate to find out what happens next. In crime this is usually because we’re worried about the characters and want them out of danger. In romance we’re also worried about them, because they may be in some kind of emotional danger. We hope that they’ll find the love/job/fulfilment that they need. This is why characterisation is so key.

Another parallel I’ve noticed between the two in the way you write sex and violence. I think the threat of violence should hover over a crime novel, but once you’ve shown it in any detail, the suspense is gone. Likewise, sexual tension only lasts until it’s cut – so you should keep it going as long as possible. And it’s often more compelling if both of those things take place off the page!

Finally, I have found it very useful to put crime writing techniques into my romance novel. I want the reader to start the book thinking ‘what’s happened here?’ and put together a puzzle about how my character has ended up where she is, and what’s gone on in her life to make her lose everything. So I see no contradiction in writing both crime and romance, and for now I’ve really enjoyed writing something where the only knives are used for cutting wedding cakes!


Claire McGowan is the author of the Paula Maguire series of crime novels. Her first rom-com The Thirty List is out now (as Eva Woods).

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