Sometimes contributions to science come from the most unlikely people. One such person was a romance writer who broke two different world records for writing appalling romances, while making a daredevil contribution to the world of early aviation. Get ready for the high-flying life of Barbara Cartland.
This is one woman who both proves and disproves the saying, "Never judge a book by its cover." Literally, it is entirely possible to judge any of the actual books produced by Barbara Cartland, the legendary romance writer, by their covers. They will all have pictures of men and women in period dress looking at each other chastely but longingly. They'll also have titles on them like, Bride to a Brigand, and The Lady and the Highwayman. Those who like the books should by all means enjoy them fully, but every single person even glancing at their covers will be perfectly able to judge the contents of them.
If you're still hesitant to judge, I encourage you to read a few. There should be plenty of them around. Starting when she was twenty-one years old, Cartland wrote 723 novels that were published in her lifetime, and 160 novels that were published posthumously. She has the record for number of books written during a lifetime, number of novels written in one year (twenty-three), and number of books sold. Reportedly, her estate has sold one thousand million books, meaning that if you were to get hit in the head with only one billionth of her sold work, it would still hurt. There are plenty of movies made about her books, and a clip of them with a very young Hugh Grant playing the Highwayman, from The Lady and the Highwayman, right here.
That's all very well and good, and a tribute to a stellar work ethic, but what about metaphorically not judging a book by its cover? Cartland had a relatively spicy personal life compared to her tame novels, but the real surprise is both her love of, and contribution to, daredevil flying. She loved gliders, which are what planes would be if you removed a lot of the stuff that kept them from crashing, like engines. Gliders were becoming more popular, especially for the rich, in the 1920s and 1930s, but they weren't much use. Cartland was an enthusiastic pilot, but what really caught her eye was some stunts they were pulling in Germany. Airplanes would tow the gliders, lifting them and sending them out on short trips. Cartland thought that short flights were for wimps. She came up with the idea for long-haul flights in a glider, built her own glider - called The Barbara Cartland - and did a two-hundred-mile long flight along with the first sack of glider-carried airmail. This was not just a one-off event. The idea for long flights on gliders caught on, and would eventually lead to troop-carrying gliders during World War II.
During the Second World War, Cartland remained on solid ground. She became a Welfare Officer, managing the day-to-day lives of local troupes. She'd returned, somewhat, to her romance roots, she focused on getting a program started where women handed down their wedding dresses so that war time brides could wear white on their wedding day. Still, her contribution to a step forward in aviation was not forgotten. In 1984 she received the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award, for her contribution to aviation. So if you have a romance author whose writing you don't particularly admire, just remember that someday they might help advance teleporter or rocket boot technology, and hold off on the judging for a bit.