Cathy Bramley: Writing the perfect summer read


26 May 2023
The bestselling feelgood author offers top tips for writing books readers will want to take on holiday

Reading is my number one hobby; I have several books on the go at any one time. I’ll have a paperback to dip in and out of during the day in quiet moments, I read on my Kindle in bed with the lights out and regularly wake up still holding it two hours later, and I love an audiobook for a long car journey. However, for many, reading a book is a once-a-year activity. I've lost count of the people who’ve told me that they only ever read on holiday because that’s the only time they relax.

That one book has to be special, it has to tick all the boxes: escapism, relaxation, page-turning, unputdownable and it has to sustain their love of reading for a whole year!

So as writers, how can we craft that perfect summer read? I’ve made a list of my top five tips.

1. Set the story in the summer. You want the reader to dive into those first few chapters and immediately feel the warmth on their faces. There’s a place for Christmas and it’s not in a summer read. That set, there are some people who love a Christmas novel all year round. But the majority of us (especially Brits with such unpredictable weather) want sunshine, blue skies and long balmy evenings.

2. Place your key moments such as revelations, big dramatic scenes, arguments, first kisses in the summeriest setting you can imagine. Think beaches, on board a boat, at a barbecue, a wedding, or a picnic.

3. Choose your location with the summer in mind. Make it somewhere your readers will wish they could be, so that they are itching to get back to their book. Most of my locations are fictional, completely from my imagination.. However for the first time, The Sunrise Sisterhood is set  in a real place, Salcombe in south Devon. It’s a place I love and the perfect place to spend a British summer. I've already had readers get in touch to say that they love Salcombe too and they can’t wait to read the book.

4. Invoke all the senses to create an unmistakable summer atmosphere. Think about what sets summer (or indeed any season) apart from the rest. It could be the sound of the dawn chorus outside a bedroom window in the morning, or waves lapping at the shore, or children playing in the garden next door. Smell can instantly transport you to a time or place: perhaps it’s roses or sweet peas, the coconut scent of sunscreen, or the smell of burgers sizzling on a barbecue. Feel sand or grass under foot, the sensation of dipping your warm skin into a cool swimming pool on a hot day. What do you see in summer that you might not at any other time? Dig deep because a few well-chosen words of description will help place your readers in the scene.

5. Writing a summer book should be easier in theory if you happen to be writing it in warm weather, but that rarely happens to me. Invariably I’m writing about Christmas trees in July and trips to the beach in January. I get around this by immersing myself in summery things. I watch films set in summer, choose holiday playlists on Spotify to inspire me when I’m writing, and I flick back through vacation photos to trigger smells and tastes associated with each trip.

So those are my tips, but what do readers want?  I asked followers on my Facebook page what made a perfect summer read for them and here are some of their answers:

Content continues after advertisements

• 'Engrossing enough so I can escape to another world but one that I can put down and pick up again easily.'

• 'Escapism, sunshine and everything working out for the characters in a realistic (and not saccharine sweet) way.'

• 'Romance, friendship, long summer nights, beautiful scenery and a very happy ending.'

• 'Escapism, allows me to transport to somewhere I may be unable to go to and escape into unknown territory.'

I’ve reproduced these comments verbatim and there were many more just like them on my Facebook page. I think my readers have hit the nail firmly on the head; escapism is the number one thing people want from a summer book. And if you spot me on the beach this summer with my nose in a book, guess what? I’ll be escaping too!

The Sunrise Sisterhood by Cathy Bramley is published by Orion Fiction, £9.99.


Want more advcie on creating uplifting, feelgood stories? Read Veronica Henry's recipe for romantic fiction.