I'm so pleased to be added as a regular contributor here on Tote Bags n' Blogs! And I thought I might as well start with a post about something near and dear to my heart...the fundamentals of why I read, and write, romantic fiction.
Yesterday on BBC Radio 4, Mills and Boon was the subject of a show called GUILTY PLEASURES. As a Mills and Boon author, I, and several other authors, were waiting with bated breath to see if it would perpetuate all the old stereotypes around category romance or if the times were changing.
And there was a bit of both and it was, for the most part, balanced. Many of the interviews and bits, especially with authors Sharon Kendrick and Gill Sanderson and editors Jo Carr and Meg Sleightholme, did a lot to dispel the negative connotations that go with reading popular romantic fiction.
But fight as we do, try as we may, there are still those that consider what we do a teeny step above gum on their literary shoes and it burns my bottom to see supposedly well-educated, intelligent women demeaning their own sex.
I actually laughed at Celia Brayfield’s assertion that it’s all clichéd and yet we try to remove the clichés and you can see the holes. Seriously? I actually had a mental image of a book with huge chunks missing where we’d slipped in those pesky things! And another of my frantic editor ripping out massive blocks of text. (I’d have a hard time making word count then, wouldn’t I!) Moreover, we write to a target audience. Are there expectations? Of course! You know what you’re getting with a Mills and Boon story – a happy ending. And ask any author of category romance, and they’ll tell you that finding new and fresh ways of meeting that expectation is what keeps us on our toes.
Mary Evans, a Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Kent, goes further and asserts that actually nothing happens in our novels. There is no relevance, no “discussion.” And I say to that…well, I won’t type the word here. But I can say that my next release is very relevant. It is timely and it is about real problems…problems like coming home from war a changed man, and having to deal with real feelings of guilt and grief and how to actually relate to people who have no idea what you’ve suffered. We tackle real-life issues and guarantee a happy ending.
Why does it need to be a book of some higher and greater purpose? I went back to a passage in my book STORY by Robert McKee: “When your premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism. In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side.”
I don’t want to write didactic tomes. I want my characters flawed and messy and with lots of gray area…just like people. What more personal and relevant thing is there above exploring our own motivations and what makes us the people we are? I’d actually argue that MORE people should read romance novels. Romance novels are about good people who have had their share of problems and growth…overcoming those obstacles and finding that ONE PERSON to share their lives with. A committed, monogamous relationship! So far I’m not seeing the downside. I think if more people read books with hope for the future we’d see a more caring society. There, I said it.
As far as comments made about the readers of romance having “two neurons” and being “just” able to read…my dear ladies. I have a university degree in English Literature. I can assure you that I can read. More than adequately. Moreover I can actually be discriminating. My degree actually taught me to have an open mind.
What really burns me is when people act like they are speaking for an entire gender when they are not. There is a new feminism in this millennium and it’s not about pitting male against female, it’s about a woman’s right. A woman’s right to be exactly who she is. Her right to become who she wants to be and celebrate that, whether it’s a stay at home mum or the President. It’s about embracing the choice. So don’t you dare adopt a patronizing tone when you chastise us for exercising our choice just because it doesn’t match up with your rhetoric.
I think Faye Weldon put it best, so I’ll close with that. She said she might not read it, but she will “fight to the death for the rights of the readers to read what they want.”