Thursday, September 27, 2007

Guilty Pleasures On BBC Radio Four

We've all been waiting with bated breath for this one, haven't we? With posts on both Natasha Oakley and Kate Walker's blogs and great comments from you lot out there.... and mostly the fear was that the initial Press Release was the tone of the show...

AND IT WASN'T!!! Actually it was GOOD and gave not only varying opinions and some fabulous history of the company and editor interviews and a great Nicola Marsh Modern Extra plug and some fab interviews with our lovely Sharon Kendrick and Gill (Roger) Sanderson et all - BUT on the *opposing side* it managed to find an *Academic* who came across as a COMPLETE TWIT. I kinda feel sorry for anyone who takes her courses frankly. Because I was always under the impression that people who taught knew to STUDY a subject before they VOICED AN OPINION on it. But hey-ho - what would I know... How about I voice MY opinion anyhoos - it being my blog and all...

Right - hang on - go get a coffee gang while I... darn it! I know I left it in the back of this cupboard somewhere under all these shoes... ahhh... wait... there it is. Now I'll just - umphh - put it - sigh - over - *struggle* - here! *STEPS UP* Now... can we all see me from the back??? GOOD - then I'll begin...
Lets' start with one of her little gems shall we???

"The journey that they tell is a very stereotypical one. It's hero at the beginning doesn't take any notice of heroine - heroine sticks to being what she is; she buys some sensational dresses, she keeps plodding on - and at the end of the day hero notices heroine... So actually nothing very much happens, except of course that there might be a few adventures along the way. But they're constructed adventures - they're not discussions, they're not conversations. I think they're very formulaic - I think they're formulaic in their endings, I think they're formulaic in their construction and I think they're formulaic in their language."

Gang - meet Mary Evans - Professor of Women's Studies at the University Of Kent - where the course ... and I quote; 'encourages students to explore diverse aspects of feminist theory...' REALLY??? Does she sound like she's encouraging ANYONE to 'explore diverse aspects'??? Nope - she's just TOLD US she thinks it's CRAP. And not only that, but anyone who reads across the lines currently available on the market will see that she plainly DOESN'T KNOW WHAT SHE'S TALKING ABOUT. Now, I obviously haven't attended any of her courses and for her to have achieved her place at the University she obviously has to be a highly intelligent woman and naturally she's entitled to her opinion but for goodness sake DO SOME RESEARCH into what you're commenting on!!! As a professor of women's studies then surely the fact that Mills And Boon Novels have been around for as long as they have and sell at the rate they do means she should understand they're more than a ' heroine sticks to being what she is... buys some sensational dresses... keeps plodding on - and at the end of the day hero notices heroine...' I mean COME ON!!! For such a highly intelligent, well educated woman SERIOUSLY???

Oooohhh and she doesn't stop there...oh lord no... If you're gonna dig yourself a hole I always feel it's important you dump the shovel and go get yourself a JCB - DO THE JOB RIGHT!

"It's bad for women to suggest that the whole of their lives will be sorted out if they simply attract the right man. That is not the reality and it stands in the way of women taking responsibility for their own lives and for the lives of their children. Mills and Boon just says (insert patronizing voice here) ' Make yourself attractive darling and some lovely bloke will come along and take care of it'. And that simply doesn't happen and it also encourages women to be dependent - to underachieve their potential - and to not fully realize themselves as human beings..."

H-E-L-L-O????? Now maybe I've missed whatever book (and yes that's SINGULAR for a purpose) she read to form this *educated opinion* but speaking for my own work and ANY OF THE VERY VERY MANY books I have read across the lines in the last FIVE YEARS since I took up this profession I can honestly say I have yet to find one that tells me 'Make yourself attractive darling and some lovely bloke will come along and take care of it' - and quite frankly if I had found one I'D HAVE THROWN IT ACROSS THE ROOM. I think were she to bother taking the time to read enough to be able to VOICE what is obviously supposed to be an EDUCATED opinion she would also have found VERY MANY books that encourage women to be strong and independent and both achieve their potential AND fully realize themselves as human beings!!!!! Only when she has read a selection of books from all the lines and been able to find this commonality in ALL of them can she be claim to be EDUCATED ENOUGH to make such a SWEEPING GENERALIZATION!

You'd think a smart woman would have quit at that. BUT-OH-NO...

"I would say as the kind of book that is read by somebody who feels that their life is lacking - is making them miserable - is making them unfulfilled in some kind of way - and so what they are turning to to make up that missing part is romance. So as I say I see them as a literature of unhappiness rather than happiness. They're a classic literature for - you know - rather miserable, rather disappointed, rather jaundiced people..."

At this point you can picture my jaw hitting the keyboard... A LITERATURE OF UNHAPPINESS RATHER THAN HAPPINESS??????????????????? W-H-A-T??? At this stage the twit-o-meter in my house has just EXPLODED - red alarm lights are flashing - and the DEFCON ONE idiot alarm is sounding like some of those sirens I kept hearing in New York this summer.

Now I like to think I'm a fairly typical female whose had her fair share of disatrous relationships along the way, has been out there in the dating scene, has had squabbles with family and financial woes and jobs I hated and days I just wanted chocolate and a duvet and to not leave the house... Did I run out to my local bookstore to grab an M&B to make-it-all-better..? WELL HELL - if I did then I need a REFUND. AND none of them came with the free PAT ON THE HEAD...

Seriously? That's what this woman THINKS? This EDUCATED woman??? NEWSFLASH 'darling' sometimes women just read FOR THE SHEER HECK OF IT. Like they eat chocolate or have a glass of wine or buy shoes or go have a facial or watch a romantic comedy at the cinema with their girlfriends. Does it mean they're not lacking in something in their lives - oh c'mon - tell me one woman who isn't MADE TO FEEL SHE MUST BE because twits like this TELL US WHY WE ARE. I'm all for understanding the psychology behind things - don't get me wrong - after all, women do that from an early age, don't they? You know - ripping things apart to understand why? But to make another SWEEPING GENERALIZATION and claim that ALL WOMEN who read Mills & Boon's are miserable shells of women - well frankly - I'm not buying it. But then frankly yet again - I'm the kinda gal that believes we women should GIVE OURSELVES A BREAK every now and again and not be made to feel we have to be fulfilled to OTHER PEOPLES standards in order to be happy. If reading a Mills And Boon fills your happy quota for a few hours then READ ONE - if chocolate makes you feel all yummy inside for a full five minutes then EAT IT and deal with the consequences on your hips for the next six months afterwards - and if a bubble bath and a glass of wine helps wind you down at the end of the day THEN RUN THAT BATH AND POUR THAT WINE (I'll have a glass with you). And don't let ANYONE tell you that you're a LESSER being because you feel the need to.
And Mary Evans - I'm only thankful there were a great many more people in this radio show with a balanced opinion and demonstrating enough common sense to make you sound as opinionated as you did. You give women's studies a bad name. Todays woman has the right to read whatever she wants to read and telling her that by doing so she's sad, miserable, lacking and incapable of knowing the difference between REAL LIFE and FICTION is just plain PATRONIZING. Is THAT what you teach your STUDENTS???? Well HEAVEN HELP all those kids that read Harry Potter then - their whole lives are about to be screwed up without them being able to FLY or own a talking OWL...
And again I'm going to say that on the whole this show was highly entertaining, informative and amusing in places too - I am kinda picking on the commentaries from people who are plainly very Anti-Mills & Boon. And yes I am bright enough to know that in order to show a balanced opinion you have to look at both sides of the coin but - and here's where things get right up my left nostril - seriously - isn't all this flaming of Mills & Boon getting a tad BORING for you folks??? Live and let live I say. Sales and longevity speak for themselves I say. Read what you wanna read and write what you wanna write I say. The days of BOOK BURNING are long since gone and if it came down to stats of the so called 'literary snobs' versus the 'number of people who buy these books' then really - how much more do I need to say??? LEARN TO LIVE WITH IT PEOPLE - the books are here to STAY. Welcome to the phenomenon known as POPULAR FICTION.
And frankly, in my humble opinion - in a world desperately short of HAPPILY EVER AFTERS we can ALL do with the escapism these little books bring... But then what do I know... I'm obviously LACKING in something while I hang around here waiting for some bloke to come make everything right for me...
*BOO-BLOODY-HOO.* Woe is me. How can I possibly go on for one more day????
And I leave you with the wise words of novelist Celia Brayford from the same show:

"The language is extremely tired and hackneyed. I do think they make an effort to remove cliches but you can always see the holes where they've cut them out. I think they're very mediocre and competant in literary terms and not more than that. It's a kind of lowest common denomenator of reading for people who can only just about read."
Right - back to the books with pictures I go then... A is for APPLE... B is for...
You can listen to the entire show on the BBC Four Website here - but be quick - they don't tend to stay on the site for long... It's called GUILTY PLEASURES...
Now - I'll just - put this soapbox - back in the - cupboard... and go back to writing the kind of heroine who'll simply put on a dress and WAIT.... that'll fill 50k - right???


Marcy said...

My oh my...some people!

I've taken my share of women's Studies classes, and I'm thankful that I never came across the likes of Mary Evans!

Ray-Anne said...

I did take time out to listen to this show, and thought it was fairly balanced. And not totally taking the mickey, even though presented by a stand up comedian.

And yes, Mary Evans and Celia came across as patronising idiots, who actually just made themselves sound very foolish.
Roger was great!

My real concern was that the editors did not succeed in getting the point across that there was a huge range of Harlequin romance styles now available - from historical tender Romance to erotica Spice and everything in between.

There is no longer just one type of 'Mills and Boon' hero/heroine or book, the new range has something for everyone.
And the presenter simply did not pick up on that. Shame.
Right, where's my pink boa?
Must just 'churn out' another volume before dinner.

Donna Alward said...

Well done.

I get asked lots why I write romance. My answer is never that I'm unfulfilled or depressed. I write them because I'm an optimist! I love HOPE!

Look at the literature over the much is written about love? Nearly ALL of it in one form or another. I for one think my books PROMOTE feminism...if I dare use that word, because feminism itself now has negative connotations associated with it. I think we've moved beyond that. I think stories that are about women overcoming obstacles, their GROWTH can only be a good thing...and I want my heroine's empowered!

Your comment on if you had read such a book you would have chucked it is dead on. That's not today's Mills and Boon. ANd I'm damned proud of that.

Cheers babes.

Ayla said...

"It's a kind of lowest common denomenator of reading for people who can only just about read."

"I would say as the kind of book that is read by somebody who feels that their life is lacking - is making them miserable - is making them unfulfilled in some kind of way - and so what they are turning to to make up that missing part is romance."

Wow, thats so funny because my *mother* has FIVE CHILDREN and a marrage of THIRTY YEARS and she reads and enjoys M&B's and i really dont think there's anything missing in *her* life. And, thankyouverymuch, my mother has read the *entire* dictionary TWICE i highly doubt she can't read! In fact i would say she is more intelligent than you ladies, Mz So called Expert's.

India said...

Nice work Trish.

That feminism thing gets to me every time. I don't want it to, I so want to be able to rise above it, but when I hear a so called feminist telling other women what they *should* be thinking and reading in some kind of effort to 'better' themselves and improve their sad, small lives I just can't help myself... and the urge to smash my head repeatedly against the desk just sweeps over me.

I think your response was so much more useful. Well done-- and thank you for putting it into words!

Natasha said...

LOL Lovely!

I agree with Ray-Anne in thinking the programme didn't really get across how much choice their is within the brand M&B. I do wonder if a casual listener would realise quite how daft Mary Evans and Celia Brayfield were if they haven't read any of Mills & Boon's recent releases.

juliemt said...

Wonderful post, Trish! I listened to the programme this morning and was once again puzzled by the negative perceptions of some people towards a fictional genre which makes millions of women happy year after year.

Their claims that the books are read and written by silly women and that they pander to the lowest common denominator are just ridiculous as is their assertion that the reason why we read M&Bs is because we are unhappy with our lives! Rubbish! I've been a M&B reader for decades, have been married for 29 years and I wouldn't change my life with anyone.

M&Bs have not given me false hope or made me think that my life would get better if I make myself attractive; if anything what they taught me is that I should always value myself and that I shouldn't ever settle for second best.

And Celia Brayfield could benefit from reading a couple of M&Bs. Maybe she might learn how to write an entertaining read as opposed to the shambles of a book that was Heartswaps.

Trish said...

THANKS GUYS for all the comments so far!!!

Marcy - yes I'd be thankful too - VERY thankful. I'd like to think anyone touting themselves as a teacher of WOMENS STUDIES would actually take the time to TALK TO THE WOMEN who read these books by the MILLIONS every year. Go figure...

Ray-Anne and Natasha - yup - don't you think some of the problem people who criticize or dismiss Mills & Boon have is that they think 'Mills & Boon' is the book itself rather than the BRAND name??? Its all too common a mistake and it's all about choice isn't it? Add the M&B catalogue to the Harlequin catalogue the way it's done world wide and to throw them all under the one 'style' or 'voice' or 'level of content' or 'subject matter' is like saying food is food or wine is wine or people are people - each line, like every person on the planet has a unique quality to it. You can tell I'm really getting sick to my back teeth of this can't you???

Donna 'I love HOPE' Alward (so callin you that from now on btw!) - RIGHT THERE WITH YA HUN... Me too - and is it any wonder we reach for the books rather than watch documentaries on the state of the world around us - really??? It's all about having a balance I feel - don't turn our backs on reality but retain the ability to hope and dream and enjoy the simple pleasures as we struggle our way through life... sigh....

AYLA - First up - WELCOME!!! And secondly - GO YOUR MOM!!! Thirty years of marriage - like Julie's 29 is nothing to be sneezed at so BRAVO LADIES!!! And that's one of the things I love about these books too - the fact that we still extol the virtues of monogamous relationships and marriage to someone who can be a partner through life. Yes - go ahead and SHOOT us for that 'cos its sooooooo much worse than some of things out there in the real world these days...isn't it???

India - WITH YA on the feminism issue - for me feminism is the right for women to make their own CHOICES. And really - do we need any help with GUILT??? There are so many people quick to criticize women that really there almost needs to be a seperate genre of feminism for women who just reserve the right to be HAPPY living their lives or doing the things that MAKE THEM HAPPY. There's enough tough stuff isn't there? Me - I like a quiet life on the whole and a simple one. I don't need the media or academics to tell me I'm obviously lacking in 'A' so should automatically go out and find 'B' or buy miracle cure 'C'. I'll find my own path thanks everso - cos no-one but me lives in my skin. And no-one but me has to look me in the mirror every day. I like having CHOICES. Again - go figure...

Julie - you're SO RIGHT. And the figures tell the tale don't they??? No matter what ANYONE thinks THAT MANY WOMEN can't be STUPID!!!!! There's an ARMY out there. AN-ARMY-I-TELL-YA!!! Full of women who have raised billions of kids and lived their lives through decades of hopes and dreams and sadness and loss and laughter and tears and change and... well... I for one am PROUD to stand right there next to them.

Just as proud as I am to continue bringing a few hours reading enjoyment to so much as ONE person. Not all of us are destined for supposed *greatness* but for me a few hours of *feeling great* is enough to balance out some of the other stuff we get to deal with every day of our lives...

I guess I'm in Donna's 'I BELIEVE IN HOPE' team too... ;)

Trish said...

WOW - That was a blog on it's own wasn't it????

Donna Alward said...

I have a team? WOW!

I'm with you. Feminism IS about power. The power to choose. The power to be exactly who we are.

Last week in London with all the other wonderful M&B authors, I have never felt more able to be exactly who I am. Unapolagetically. And celebrated it.

Go me! The HOPE team!

Kate Walker said...


Just that - yes!

And Go the Hope Team! (and the Cleavage gang!)

(Who is into her 35th year of marriage if we're counting - and yes I was a very very little baby bride!! ;o) )

Nicola Marsh said...

Great post, Trish.
Man, oh man, some of those comments from Mary Evans and Celia...!!
Glad Wally the wombat made an appearance ;)

Sandra Schwab said...

Because I was always under the impression that people who taught knew to STUDY a subject before they VOICED AN OPINION on it.

Oh didn't you know? You don't have to study the subject before writing about romance because we ALL know what these little books that are read by miserable, frustated housewives and that keep those poor women from rebelling against the yoke of patriarchy, are like. *head desk*

I recently went to a conference on feminism and popular romance in Newcastle, and on the chick lit panel there was one person who compared chick lit to romance aka THE Mills&Boon novel and -- *drumroll* -- Barbara Cartland. And she came to the conclusion that heroines in romance must be weaker because of the omniscient narrator. Oh really?

So in the Q&A session I pointed out, among other things, that there is no omniscient narrator in romance.

"Oh yes, there is," she said.

"No, there isn't."

"Well, I haven't read a romance novel yet, but I have the instinctive feeling that there is."


Trish said...


You just made me spit tea all over my keyboard...

*So in the Q&A session I pointed out, among other things, that there is no omniscient narrator in romance.

"Oh yes, there is," she said.

"No, there isn't."

"Well, I haven't read a romance novel yet, but I have the instinctive feeling that there is."*

She was ON THE PANEL and HADN'T READ ONE??????? Lemme just get my head round this... ON the PANEL.... HADN'T...

On... Hadn't...

NOPE - I'm struggling with this one! THANK GOD it wasn't a panel on BRAIN SURGERY or TYING KNOTS THAT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE or ... SHEESH... This just makes my BLOOD BOIL!!!!

Nice that she had something RELEVANT to contribute to that discussion then.

Do many NOVELISTS attend that conference????? 'Cos it could be arranged you know - if they wanted someone who KNEW what they were talking about... ;)

Sandra Schwab said...

Trish, the "I have the instinctive feeling that ..." is a classic, isn't it? I think I had steam coming out of my ears at the end of that session. Nevertheless, the response to our own romance panel the next day was surprisingly positive.

My master thesis and now my PhD thesis include a large chapter on romance and therefore I had to wade through all these horrible, horrible uninformed studies on the genre. Some of that stuff is unbelievable! But luckily, the tide is turning at least in some areas -- Juliet Flesch has written a brilliant study of Australian Mills&Boon authors and their novels. In her theory chapter she takes apart each and every cliché about romance fiction (and it seems that some of the stuff she found was even more horrid than the studies I had to read!).

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Thanks for the fab post Trish! I still haven't caught up with the actual discussion on R4 - not sure I can now with the vivid image of the JCB - I can't stop laughing! :-)

I LOVE M&B books so much, but I'm so tired at having to justify why. Gray and I have raised a fair few eyebrows when people discover that we BOTH aspire to be published by M&B.

I'm about to begin my latest course for my degree - Creative Writing - so your post has warmed me up for any criticism that genre fiction gets. On second thoughts I may just point them in your direction... ;-)

Fiona Harper said...

Trish! I love it when you rant!

Must go and listen to the darn programme now...

JOYE said...

Enjoyed the visit and the article

Melissa Leavitt said...

Right on Trish! Loved your post. :)

"...but I have the instinctive feeling that there is."

LOL, oh my oh my!!!

I find clueless academics such a riot! LOL

Reminds me of my Feminist film class that was lead by “James” a self-proclaimed science fiction film expert. This guy had us watching b and c grade lesbian porn to learn about the "feminine gaze." What the heck?!? I think the bulk of the class content was from his private collection in his mom's basement. shheeesh. What crap we must wade through all in the name of getting a degree. Maybe Mary and James should get together. Fools.

And count me in on Team Hope! That's why I read romance novels. That's why I aspire to WRITE romance novels. Go Team Hope!

Cole said...

Ok, Trish I'll be honest... I stopped reading after the second paragraph of her comments... too early in the morning to have such high blood pressure!!!!


Trish said...


And THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE for hopping in to comment on this - as always I'm PROUD and AMAZED by how many great folk there are out there who love the books we all love to read and write!!! And ARMY of us - yes indeedy!

Shall leave it with another comment left on the Teach Me Tonight Blog - - a blog run by the lovely Laura who also did a thesis on romance novels and where, after blogging on the subject of this radio show one of her readers said that the CRITICS of the genre were the ones sounding TIRED and CLICHED. I'd have to agree, wouldn't you???

Seems to me the genre and Mills & Boon has moved forward with the times while the critics have remained suck in the dark ages - right?

So maybe they should think about moving with the times too... ;)