A friend of mine with a bad back has decided to treat herself to a terracotta reclining chair. To make room for it in her tiny flat, the brown settee had to go. Adamant that nobody would want that old thing, she doomed it to the tip, sorry, the recycling centre. 

We hummed and hawed over the options of how to get it into the car for its final journey and in the end decided to saw it in half.

In the process we discovered how carefully it had been constructed. We admired the craftsmanship that had gone into making it. While I sawed, I started to tell her about the unsatisfying book I’d just finished.

In the case of both the settee and the book, solid craftsmanship was not enough.

I am not going to name the book or its author because I am not having a go at her personally. In fact, good on her for identifying the formula which propelled her debut novel into the New York Times best seller list.


I cannot sit comfortably with the formula any more than my friend could sit comfortably on her old settee.

In the opening chapter, the reader is introduced to the heroine. She is intelligent, established in her career, fit in both senses of the word. In the formula she is h.

She is wary of the hero the first time she meets him. He is intelligent, established in his career, and so wealthy that he owns large properties in several countries and flies between them in private planes. He is impeccably dressed in expensive clothes. His temper is uncertain. He has many secrets. In the formula he is H.

The formula reads H > h because the hero has to know more and accomplish more than the sassiest, most feisty of heroines. He has to rescue her when she inadvertently endangers herself. I can buy the idea that she is prepared to compromise her career for the sake of their joint quest but I am uncomfortable about the ease with which she accepts that her role in her relationship with the hero is subservience.

My reward for sawing up the sofa was £1.67 in loose change. This morning I discovered that a new one in a similar style retails for over £1200.

My reward for finishing the book was a lesson in how to pace a novel. As a result, I have changed the order in which my heroine makes her first journey of discovery in her father’s homeland to provide a more dramatic conclusion and to set up the second volume more clearly.

However in my books the formula H>h will not be applied.

Morven Ash

September 2016