Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why an old romance book made feel defective

Many years ago I read a book by a well-known English writer of female fiction. The reason I remember this otherwise forgettable book, was that it included a character with an illness - my illness - epilepsy.

If you didn't know I have epilepsy, and got diagnosed nearly thirty years ago. I lost my burgeoning nursing career because they didn't know how to handle me. Devastating at the time but life deals you these trials. I am lucky that epilepsy only impacts on my life every few years, and the worst thing is not being able to drive for a year.

Bearing in mind, years ago, romance was still 'shy Cinderella meets handsome alpha prince' you might blink at her daring and foresight including a 'defective' heroine. Because that's how this book made me feel - defective.

In past times epilepsy was thought of as being mentally defective but thankfully I wasn't locked up in an asylum for having seizures. However this author made me feel as if I should have been. The heroine kept it a secret and then when it did come out, she was treated by the hero and the family as if she was mentally incapable of looking after herself. They took over her life and decision-making and took away her choices.

The author hadn't checked on current research. I felt she was taking someone who'd been diagnosed decades previously and written them accordingly. I remember weeping with rage as I read this stupid stupid book. As you can probably imagine I never read anything by that author again.

I have read many calls for more diversity in the genre and I see more authors that include main characters with illnesses, trauma, and challenging characteristics. I refuse to say 'less than perfect' or 'defective'. 

Carol Lynne was one the first authors I read in the genre and I was initially amazed at how many of her characters have to deal with illnesses that happen in the 'real world', including patients living with HIV. I was still stuck in the 'defective' mode like the book with epilepsy. Her matter-of-fact approach gave me a swift kick to the arse. Thanks, Carol.

How many books have you read where the author got it right (shout it out)? Have you read ones that made you scream in frustration (no names please)? 


  1. I am a RN & would like to say first sorry you didn't get to be a nurse like you wanted. Second yes I've read Ethan, Who Loved Carter & it is amazing. I cried through several parts & it was realistic too. Lastly I wanted to say I've read in so many books ( and seen on TV/movies ) scenes where a character dies & they flatline then you hear shock him. I wish writers would do more research cause you don't shock flatlines. Sure it sounds dramatic in books & looks good on screen, but it's not true to medical practice. Thx-

    1. I don't think I've ever ever seen them not shock after flatlining on TV. Now I've learned something.

  2. First I wanted to say I agree with your other blog & say I think it comes from some men still living in the era where women were wives, mothers, & homemakers & nothing else. Why else would they fill the need to constantly point out that the book was written by a female author? Either it's good or not. Author's gender doesn't matter. Second you only shock a heart that's in dysrhythmia (abnormal heart beats) but it has to have a rhythm. Flatlines get chest compressions & meds. I would suggest to any author writing a dying scene to use American Heart Association or Red Cross (or whatever foreign country they're from version?) Acute Cardiac Life Support guidelines. Thx, Kendra

    1. Thanks, Kendra, I really appreciate it.