NZ Book Month: author 4 - Essie Summers

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For our unofficial book month I'd like to present, author four ...

Essie Summers

aka: 'NZ's Queen of Romance'
aka: Ethel Snelson Summers (b. 1912; d. 1998)
"Unrivalled New Zealand writer Essie Summers is pictured with her typewriter and a manuscript for a Mills and Boon romance novel at her family home in Preston Cres, Dunedin, during the 1960s."
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Essie Summers is known for writing romance novels set in NZ - mainly around Otago and Canterbury. For many years it was Mills & Boon who published them, but during the latter years it was Severn Books. Her last book was released just a year before she passed away. She wrote 55 novels, with the first one being published in 1957 - the day after her 45th birthday.
Apparently, although she bought herself a typewriter she preferred to handwrite much of her drafts.

Her heroines were known for their assertiveness & fiestiness and pursuing careers in a male-dominated world. Considering the era these books were written in, this was such a positive reinforcement to all those readers she reached with her words.

Her 1964 novel The Smoke and The Fire is an excellent example.
(Our herione is a young Welsh lady, newly immigrated and attending a job interview ...)
"It may surprise you, Mr Bryn-Morgan, that I have never been called ravishing before. Maybe when I've got over the shock I'll find it's a compliment. It had never occurred to me, either, that one must be plain to have brains, to be an efficient secretary. If that idea is prevalent in New Zealand, maybe I'd be better as a barmaid.''

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Although she lived in Dunedin for 20 years and other towns in Otago for a further 10, she has yet to be acknowledged as openly and proudly there as other well-known and successful writers, and it has been speculated that this is because her work has been labelled as 'Mills & Boon romance' and relegated to a sub-standard category in the eyes of literature snobs; and yet her books had "sold more than 19 million copies in 105 countries". source They've also been translated into 25 different languages, so have been enjoyed by a vast-reaching audience. Essie has been considered an unofficial tourism promoter, inspiring readers to visit New Zealand based on the descriptive prose of the scenery in her stories.
At one point she turned down the offer of an MBE.
A retirement village in Christchurch was renamed in her honour.
As well as her romance tales, she wrote an autobiography.
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When I was a teen, my Mum and a group of (female) family & friends had a bit of a book-swap thing going on, whereby piles of these Mills & Boon and Harlequin -type romance novels would do the rounds and everyone would put their initials inside the covers so they could easily identify which stories they'd read; and Essie Summers books were certainly amongst those well-read collections.
It would certainly be lovely for her family if she was finally recognised as having been a worthy important contributor to New Zealand literature.


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(extra tags: #authors #books #fiction #literature #people)

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