Do people talk of PTQ these days? – Page-Turning Quality, I mean. The un-put-downable-ness of a book. You can’t bottle it and sell it, but if you could I bet we’d all be trying to buy some. I was thinking of this recently as I’ve just finished an orgy of reading, devouring titles by two authors who have PTQ in spades.
The first is Mildren Wirt Benson, whom you may know as the ghost-writer of many of the early Nancy Drew titles. But she also produced a great many other books, and I’ve been working my way through the Penny Parker series. If you wished to cavil, the quality of these varies, as does the heroine’s hair – it jumps from blonde to red and back to blonde with stunning speed. Timings in the books are quite extraordinary – at one point Penny visits a newspaper library late at night. She finds herself alone there as the librarian has just gone for lunch. I could list more but that would be mean, and in any case I suppose these errors prove my point; that no matter the inconsistencies you spot, any author who can still keep you rushing breathlessly through the book must have accomplished a great deal. Her interesting life is chronicled in more detail here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mildred_Benson
Mildred’s work was often in the form of series; Grace Livingston Hill, a Christian writer who was working at much the same time, tended to stick to stand-alone books. And she’s not so prone to Mildred’s errors, either, although there is an enormous plot hole in one of her early works, ‘The Mystery of Mary’, which a good editor would surely have spotted. Clue – it’s to do with how the heroine lost her hat, so I don’t give the story away. And I’m quite sure many people who reads her works will skip the theological issues discussed by her characters. Grace, too, though, had this magical PTQ. She made you care about the characters she created – and she created a new set almost every time. The only semi-sequel I’ve found so far is ‘White Orchids’/’A Strange Proposal’.
One thing I’ve noticed in reading a lot of Grace’s book is how often they start with someone on a train. A physical journey is being taken, but almost always the first character (usually the heroine) is also going from one world to another. Even if she’s going ‘home’, it’s a different home to the one she left. Sometimes there’s a physical change (her family has moved house), often a change in the family – someone has fallen ill, or left, so it’s not the situation she left behind. The journey is both a plot device and a metaphor for the journey the heroine is on.
Both women wrote well over 100 books, which puts my production schedule to shame! If I’ve inspired you to read either lady’s work I shall be happy. And I hope you will be happy to learn that several can be found free on http://www.gutenberg.org. Rather like chocolates, one is never enough!