Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Romance?

For anybody so deeply buried in a cave that they might not know - 2008 is Mills & Boon's CENTENERY year!!!

That's 100 years worth of writers and books and reading pleasure. Generation after generation of happily ever afters and pure escapism. It has survived two world wars and a sexual revolution or three and changing roles of women and... Well...

It's a bit of a phenomenon.

What it means for us writer's this side of the planet is that we're suddenly thrown into the public eye in a way many writers never expected. At least I didn't. And it's a tad scary if we're gonna be entirely honest - which being my Blog we naturally are ;)

The THING IS we seem to take more of a beating this side of the planet than authors do ANYWHERE ELSE and me being me, I think it's about time that changed, don't you? Let's look at the differences shall we?

In the UK Mainland we recently had the BBC Radio show Guilty Pleasures
(You can find the original blog I did on it here)

And in Australia we recently had the very lovely Ally Blake's Interview

Now - *cough* - does anyone notice a difference in the approach??? See now that's the price of fame. This side of the planet M&B is an iconic name. And when you're *up there* it automatically means people get to take the mickey out of it. Criticisms like 'it's dated' or 'it's cliched' or 'theyre all the same' or 'the writing is bad' ?!!!$$$%%%& or 'they're anti-feminist' or...well I think we've pretty much heard all the tired lines by now haven't we?

The question is - can we turn the tide in 2008???

We all love em. A Mills and Boon book is sold - wait for it - EVERY FIVE SECONDS in the UK. That speaks for itself. And we've been saying how great the books are and how much fun loud and proud at The Pink Heart Society for a year and a half now. But with the Centenery Celebrations and all the promotional activity can we now get the message out there a little wider? Gosh I hope so!!!

Now my argument would be that there's no age limit on fantasy or escapism. Men get to play video games, mess about on football fields and watch/read cartoons regularly enough (The Simpsons being a classic example). Okay, granted, their model making days may now have larger pieces to play with (car parts, building materials, etc,etc) but they still take time out to remain young at heart. In order to prove myself a fully paid up member of the 21st Century womans club should I read nothing but Philosophy and Self Improvement books while limiting myself to Nigella Lawson type cooking and Supernanny type raising of kids???(If that's the case I should point out I'm failing miserably and should be expelled from the club forthwith!!!)

WHY can't I enjoy the modern day/mature equivalent of a latter day fairy story. WHY can't I read something that leaves you with that guaranteed sense of happily ever after? WHY am I incapable of understanding the difference between real life and fantasy if I read these books? WHY? WHY? WHY? (insert stomping of feet and pouting and can I have a lollipop if I'm a good little girl...)

And WHY can Mills & Boon type storylines appear vaguely hidden in everything from movies to soaps and yet when I make my living being blatantly happy and proud of what I do I'M THE ONE that has to deal with the *look down our noses* attitude of so called *PROPER WRITER'S* and *EDUCATED READERS*?????? Huh? Huh? I just don't get it. Someone help me out here...

I always thought, and maybe this is naive, that part of the great feminist movement that hundreds of thousands of womens still fight for gave us the right of FREEDOM OF CHOICE. Am I wrong about that gang? If I want to indulge in some out and out fantasy and still believe in the power of love in all it's varying forms both on and off the page - am I wrong to want that too?

This year we writers get to talk about Mills & Boon books on a scale we've probably never done before. And already several writers, myself included, have had interviews that have actually been very positive. So is the tide turning? What would YOU say to the critics? Do you think that some of the tired old criticisms just make the people saying them look like the fools? Do the sales and the longevity speak for themselves?

Should we really have to defend what we read and write?

I'm PROUD of what I do. So there! I LOVE that I'm a very very very small part of a century long history in publishing. I LOVE happily ever afters. And as to the heroes... wellllll... like Forest Gump... that's about all I have to say about that.... You guys can fill the rest of the sentence in on your own ;)

So what would YOU say to help turn the tide???


Natasha said...

This was the conversation we were having when The Pink Heart Society was born! Hooray!!!

'Tis true. This side of the world we have a hideous time. At least in Ireland they do seem to love their own but here on the mainland they don't even do that. I've decided the only way forward is to make a collection of disparaging questions and display them in the downstairs toilet.

So, what have I so far ....?

How do you feel about pandering a false expectation to women?

Before you wrote for M&B did you actually know anyone who read them?

Don't you want to write a proper book like ... (please insert your favourite author here).

Oooh now this is beginning to be fun!

Ally Blake said...

Trish, I reckon your final paragraph said it all. So long as every interview on our side is conducted in a purely positive manner, bragging about how lucky we are, how much these little books of ours make a difference in people's lives, and the fact that every book ever written has a romance in it somewhere!!! (the Bible, the Da Vinci Code, War & Peace, the Time
Travellers Wife, Catch 22 need I go on...) then the tide will turn.

And is turning journos realise we are a feel good story all of our own.


Ray-Anne said...

As an unpublised author [ at the moment OF COURSE!] I would have to say that I would focus on
* the business side as a first point - i.e. As you say, sales figures, total market in the US, the position of HMB and trade romance etc - and then, talk about *WHY these 'little books' are so successul and play a HUGE part in people's lives.
*Especially in a modern culture where we are bombared with multimedia choices - TV, DVD, etc.- readers CHOOSE these books.
Customers drive the market.
* then why WE chose to write them, as opposed to any other genre.

Well, that should fill a few minutes.
[Failing that, if I still got grief, I would be forced to use my 'Assertive Voice'. Feel the fear.]

jackietoo said...

Without M&B, there would have been no Essie Summers books and I LOVED reading them while I was growing up!

Keep up the good work, Ladies! :D

Ray-Anne said...

Follow up - Romance Novel TV has a video on Category romance, and is very fair.

D said...

Hi All,

Well, WOW. As hard as it is for these so called critics to understand the warmth and charm used to write these amazing romances, I find it harder to understand how such critics exist. I can only assume they are either a) heartless or b) they have absolutely appalling sex lives.

In a world gone mad, where terrible crimes are committed, ilness and sickness are sad realities for many, where greed is at an all time high, where humnan lives are considered worthless by some, we NEED M&B, HARLEQUIN etc.

What better way to get away from it all, what better way to have your faith restored in mankind than when the hero redeems himself? What better way to learn some new moves for the bedroom? Seriously, a girl could take some serious notes.

When I'm having a bad day, rushed off my feet caring for children, washing and drying clothes, washing and drying dishes, preparing school lunches and doing the school run, preparing proper lunch and returning to school, preparing dinner and helping with homework, feeding the baby that follows me in the walker, washing and drying children before locating pyjamas, reading bed time stories, praying they fall asleep really quickly, I look forward to one thing at the end of it all, one thing...a billionaire with almond coloured eyes to whisk me away to his secluded yet extravagant island.

And where can I get that, who provides me with all I need to unwind and become myself again?

Why, you girls of course. Keep up the tremedous work and feel proud every day knowing you bring so much happiness into our lives.


Ray-Anne said...

One more thought.
I have, of course, assumed that the academic and psychological aspects of Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs - where the peak of any human existence is Self-Actualisation- are completely understood by every author, and implicitly understood by every reader, of romance fiction.

This is intensely private and personal.
Book clubs rarely discuss self motivational and improvement books for this reason.
What one person understands as self-actualisation is unique. And sacred and special.

Journos and the public may not want to go there of course, because that would imply that their true needs are not being met, or could be ridiculed, as part of their private search for self-truth.
If one woman loves TV soaps, and another category romance, are they willing to discuss that in public? thereby exposing their own search for self-worth? Doubtful.

So let the numbers speak for themselves. I do not read romance exclusively. But I would fight for my right to do so.

End of rant. Calm thoughts. Smile.