Saturday, 20 February 2016

Why I Let Romance Fiction Back Into My Life.

I stopped reading male/female romance on November 8th, 1985. If you're wondering why I know the exact date, it was the date my mother died of a heart attack. My mum was a huge romance fan, and because I was an avid reader I read her romance books too.

My mum had hundreds of Mills & Boon, Georgette Heyer, and Barbara Cartland, and with our weekly visits to the library, which fortuitously was at the end of our road, we must have read thousands and thousands of books. Each week I got six romance books for her and six books for me. I read romance alongside Jean Paul Sartre, John Creasey, James Herbert, John Wyndham, and whatever else I could lay my hands on. I had a very eclectic taste in books.

1985 was at the cusp of the time that romance stopped ending at the bedroom door. Up to then there had been a kiss or two, and a fair few heaving bosoms, but generally they stopped with the hero sweeping the fluttering heroine into his arms, throwing her over his horse (if it was an historical), and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Suddenly the heroines were getting more feisty, there was a fair bit of groping of the heaving bosoms and they drove off into the sunset in his sports car to live happily ever after.

I know it's easy to laugh at those romance books. The formula, the alpha male/submissive female, the insta-love and the happy ever after. But they were feel good books, easy to read and gentle for the soul. I read crime, sci-fi and every other genre I could get my hands on. Romance was just part of my reading library and I don't feel embarrassed about it.

There are books I remember; the plots that stayed in my mind. The doctor/nurse where a young male patient committed suicide. The Barbara Cartland where a young virginal American heiress forced to marry, pretends to be someone else to seduce her aristocratic husband (of course they fall in love). The singer being stalked and the broken hero. The heroine who ended up not living with her love. I remember these and loved them because they broke the formula and introduced something more.

Once Mum died I couldn't read romance any more. It hurt too much to see the Mills & Boon covers. We gave three hundred plus titles to charity shops. Then, along with everything else, I read the bonkbusters of the 1980s, the epic dramas, with sex, lies, marriages, and more boobs and formidable members than you could shake a stick at. Also gay relationships which was the first time I read gay and lesbian (not together!) sex, Jackie Collins books I think.

Time moved on and I read fantasy and crime. There were relationships and sex, sweet romance and the occasional gay romance. I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley. Yes, I know she's problematical now, but The Catch Trap as a portrayal of a gay love affair was life changing for me.
Then Captain Jack Harkness kissed the real Captain Jack on Torchwood and I discovered fan fiction. The rest, as we say, is history. Suddenly I read M/M romance like it was going out of fashion. New love, still a happy ever after.

I have struggled to call myself a romance writer. I insisted I wrote relationships, not romance. I was (am) acutely aware that romance in another genre never seemed to attract the same sneering condescension that romance novels did. It was okay for James Herbert (British horror writer) to put romance into his books as long as he scared the bejeesus out of you at the same time. It's okay for romance writers to write about suicide but if the romance label is stamped on the books, well, it's crap that chicks read, isn't it?

Recently the romance genre has taken a bashing yet again. I don't want to link to the blogs but Heidi Cullinan talks about surviving yet another dismissive piece here. I write about domestic abuse, sexual orientation and homelessness. But I also write about love and happy ever afters. Do I still struggle with being called a romance writer? I'm pulling up my big girl panties and declaring a big F.U if you sneer at romance. I'd like to quote from Heidi's post.

Romancelandia, we have joy and success in abundance. We are a large, diverse, powerful community. We have the money, the membership, and the readership. Yes, we have the disdain of the patriarchy and all who fall victim to its influences. But at the end of the day, we have so much, and we’re gleaning more every day. We’ve changed the industry so many times and we’ll change it more in the future, and we do this not because we want to crush anyone but because it was a natural consequence of our own explorations of story, of power, of agency, of community. Read the rest here.

I am a romance writer. A proud romance writer. And if you dismiss romance to my face I can and will defend my genre to the hilt. 

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