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Why I’m fed up of defending romance writing

Image by Viv Beck from Pixabay

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m an editor and author of romantic fiction. Last week was a busy one for me as I tried to finish all the work on my schedule and answer any queries from clients before I go away to New Zealand in a few days, to visit family.

helena fairfax, new zealand
Wellington Harbour, New Zealand

This has turned out to be a bit of a rant-y post, so apologies in advance.

Editing and writing romance is my full-time job and I’ve been lucky to work with many hard-working, professional and creative people, not just in the UK, but around the world.

Romance Writers of New Zealand

Last week was the annual conference of the Romance Writers of New Zealand. Every year romance author Nalini Singh – a New York Times bestselling author thirty times over, whose books have sold millions around the world – generously pays for two aspiring writers who couldn’t otherwise afford it to attend the conference. I’m a great admirer of Nalini Singh. She has an inspirational dedication to writing. Her generosity and support for new writers is typical of the world of romance; here in the UK bestselling author Katie Fforde also offers an annual bursary for a writer to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference.

So how disappointing it is to fhelena fairfax, nalini singhind that one of the recipients of Nalini Singh’s generosity has written an article for Stuff NZ that talks down about the genre and appears – even after a full weekend at the conference – to completely misunderstand what romantic fiction is about. The post is called Kiss and tell: running with the romance crowd in Christchurch. It’s the sort of article I’d normally ignore, but I think what’s particularly incensed me about it is that the author has accepted this gift from Nalini Singh not because she’d like to learn about writing romance, but because she wanted a ‘child-free vacation’.

As I wrote in the title to my article, I’m fed up of defending romance writing, but because this author has prevented a struggling writer with a genuine interest in furthering her career from taking up a place at the conference, today I’m particularly annoyed. Far from being ‘peddlers of soft porn’, as this article insinuates, successful romance authors are intelligent, hard-working and focused people. Nalini Singh is a qualified lawyer and she speaks three languages (English, Hindi and Japanese). But I feel intensely irritated about having to point this sort of thing out. The vast majority of qualified lawyers – for all their professional experience – don’t know how to write a great story. Nalini Singh does.

The author of this article starts by saying the conference took place ‘while the Amazon rainforest burns’. I’m used to analysing text. As I mentioned, I’m an editor as well as a writer. To make clear my own credentials (although again, I resent feeling I have to do this for the benefit of people who think romance writers are semi-literate) I have a degree in modern languages and a diploma in translation from the Institute of Linguists. I’ve read widely, from Goethe (in the original language), to Moliere (ditto), and Mills & Boon. In my off-the-cuff analysis of this author’s words, I’d say she is insinuating romance writers are airheads who spend time doing trivial stuff when they should be engaging with the world’s problems.

I could write a whole essay about how wrong this attitude is, but I’ll cut my response to a few points.

  • In a world that feels out of control to so many people, reading books is one thing that we can have control of. Reading has been shown to be beneficial to people’s mental health and romance novels in particular are uplifting, positive, feel-good reads.
  • If romance writers stopped writing around the world, a billion-pound industry would collapse, causing a loss of livelihood not only to publishing professionals, but also to the people who print and bind the books, the warehouse people who pack them and ship them off, the staff who sell them in bookshops, and everyone else who earns money from the airheads who write.
  • If the author of this article was so concerned about the Amazon burning, why wasn’t she doing something about it herself, instead of taking a holiday at Nalini Singh’s expense?

Another paragraph I found particularly irritating:

‘There are many notable New Zealand romance-writing success stories…but typically these people fly under the radar. You might be surprised to discover your perfectly respectable neighbour is making a living quietly writing soft porn.’

At my first ever UK RNA conference. Not writing porn. 

Again, I could write another essay, but here are just a few points.

  • There are many romance novels that don’t feature any sex at all, but in those that do, the sex scenes are not soft porn. Porn is only about sex. When the hero and heroine of a romance novel have sex, the sex scene is about these characters as individuals and about their relationship
  • Far from being ‘under the radar’ with my neighbours, my neighbour is one of my biggest fans and keeps asking me when my next book is coming out
  • I’ve discussed many times with romance writers why we are often reluctant to tell people what we do. The reason is we often get a similar response to the one in this article – that is, faintly scornful and ignorant about the genre. This is another reason why I’m fed up of defending romance writing

To be fair to the author of this article, by the end of the conference she does seem to be revising her opinion that romance writers are ‘tragic, lonely, older women in tracksuits surrounded by a lot of cats’ and has discovered that they are predominantly ‘incredibly intelligent, warm, supportive and ballsy operators’.

It’s unusual for me to use this blog to vent, but – as you may have realised by now :) – I was annoyed by this article. But Nalini Singh has reacted in a typically thoughtful way, with this series of tweets:

The author goes on to say:

‘Secondly… I set up the scholarship as open to all so no one was disadvantaged even if they didn’t belong to a group or know anyone in publishing.

This means I go on their word and how they present their motives. It’s extremely disappointing that what was meant to be an opportunity for a writer was taken by someone who apparently wanted a vacation weekend.

However, I refuse to let this person’s choice change who I am as a person. I will continue to offer the scholarship/ funding as long as I can and I hope it will go to people like Bel, who was the second recipient and is incredible.’

Hebden Bridge in the valley, between the moors

To end on a more positive note, yesterday I met up in Hebden Bridge with a group of romance author friends. I have nothing against tracksuits, but none of us was wearing one. Some of us have cats, but only one or two (and I have a dog). I happen to know one of our group is a qualified solicitor and one a bi-lingual teacher, and one a graphic designer. I’ve never discussed the others’ qualifications, because we meet to chat about writing. They all tell a brilliant story – and that’s what counts!

The nine of us in this particular group – eight romance writers, and one mystery writer – have put together our second anthology of stories based on a fictional Hebden Bridge.

The cover was designed by one of our talented authors, Mary Jayne Baker.

helena fairfax, miss moonshineHere is the blurb (warning: contains no soft porn)

There’s something magical about Miss Moonshine’s Wonderful Emporium, and at Christmas she brings an added sparkle to the inhabitants of the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge. Customers who step over her threshold find an eccentric collection of gifts, but Miss Moonshine has a rare knack for providing exactly what they need: a strange Advent calendar whose doors give a glimpse of a happy ending; a vintage typewriter that types a ghostly message from Christmas past; a mirror in a silver case that reflects the person you’d like to be.
Step inside Miss Moonshine’s quirky shop, and the thing you need most for Christmas will be right there, waiting for you…

Christmas at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium is on pre-order now and will be released in print and eformat on 4th October.

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to work with this group of creative, professional and supportive writers. We have a brief for the stories, a word count and a deadline, and the writers have all run with the brief in their own imaginative way. We may not be able individually to stop the Amazon from burning, but we can try and make the world a more cheerful place.

*

Are you an author of romantic fiction, or a reader of the genre? What do you think of the stereotypes around romance writers and readers? 

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

10 thoughts on “Why I’m fed up of defending romance writing

  1. I agree that the recipient of this bursary was at best ungracious and at worst underhand and ignorant. Your take on the stereotyping of romance and romantic authors really hit a chord with me (a fellow Yorkshire lass, reader of romance, and a medical Doctor). I am about to have my first (romance) novel published. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband that I was writing (I started 5 years ago) because I was embarrassed that I was writing in this genre. I thought everyone would think it either lame or dirty. Now that I’ve been getting it out in the open everyone has surprised me by being completely supportive, impressed and excited about it. This, and reading opinions such as yours, have fuelled me to own it. I will be openly proud of my achievement and refuse to feel I have to defend myself when I do inevitably come across negativity.

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  2. Congratulations on having your first novel published, and for having the determination to stick at the writing for five years. I used to feel embarrassed to ‘admit’ to writing and enjoying reading romance novels, too. But after meeting so many talented, creative and intelligent romance writers I’m now very proud to call myself one. A very warm welcome to the club, and wishing you all the best with your release!

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    1. I wasn’t sure of the point, either, Sue. The author did say that she found one of the workshops ‘inspirational and insightful’, and that her experience had changed her ‘preconceived notions’ of what romance authors were like. I hope that at least has meant the bursary was put to good use.

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  3. Sometimes people make me just a bit crazy. I’m a romance author and I only have one cat, but that would change if I made some real money and could afford my own place. Romance writers and readers rock, and those who can’t or won’t see the value in something so wonderful are pitiable.

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    1. It’s not easy making a living from writing, whatever the genre. That’s why it’s such a shame this bursary didn’t go to a romance writer who would have been able to use it. I agree, romance writers and readers rock! Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment! x

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  4. I am so sorry this woman took advantage of the gift from Nalini instead of allowing a person who loves writing romance to enjoy the conference. Romance has always been the ugly step child of the literary world. Perhaps they’re just jealous of its popularity and how the readers enjoy the stories (and writers love creating them.)!! So happy you have this blog to vent your true feelings. Thanks for being our hero. Kudos to you.

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    1. Thank you so much for your great comment, JQ. Yes, it’s a shame someone else had to miss out. The UK’s RNA conference is an opportunity to meet with people in the publishing world, make friends and listen to some inspirational talks. It does seem a shame that someone else lost out on this chance. Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!

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