Those of us who love romance – writing it, reading it, watching romantic TV shows or films – can sometimes feel rather ‘sneered at’. Romance often seems to generate snobbishness from some who prefer literary forms they consider more pure, more worthy, or simply ‘better’. Interestingly, this seems to happen not just to romance but to other perfectly valid genres such as science fiction and fantasy.
Does it, though, happen more often to genres read mostly by women? ‘Chick lit’, ‘women’s fiction’, and ‘romance’ are sometimes made to feel lesser, and without, in my view, any real justification. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a bad book. A book may be well-written, or badly-written. It may be subjectively more enjoyable, meaningful, or interesting to a particular reader. That’s fine. My books have attracted a wide range of reviews, from “wonderful” to “didn’t enjoy this at all”. That’s also fine. [I do try not to read negative reviews though, as they do sometimes dent my confidence.]
So when I was asked to take part in a BBC documentary exploring what it’s like to write for Mills & Boon, I hesitated. What would the tone be? I asked. They assured me that it would be interested, light, respectful, and that there was no intention to poke fun or criticise romance. So I agreed, as did my two fellow M&B writers from N Ireland – Lynne Graham and Karin Baine.
I was interviewed in the Lisburn Road Library in Belfast by the lovely Eithne Shortall, herself a published writer, with some follow up (socially distanced) filming at my home a week or so later. I was reassured by Eithne’s line of questioning. She did ask the feminism question but was respectful, genuinely interested, and I saw it as a chance to counter some of the inaccurate messages that are out there.
While the documentary was at the editing stage, the promo began. The Belfast Telegraph contacted all three of us for a feature piece, which was reassuringly positive (despite an assumption that romance writers must naturally be addicted to demonstrations of romance in their own relationships 😀 ).
BBC Radio Ulster then got in on the action, and I did a short interview with writer and comedian Nuala McKeever, who began by asserting that romance is often met with eye-rolling. This, naturally, fired me up, and we went on to have a great chat about it all.
Finally, the documentary itself aired. I must say I thought they did a great job. Lynne Graham (legend) came across really well – humble and grounded despite her phenomenal success. My friend Karin Baine did a great job talking about her work, and the editing didn’t make me look totally foolish. I’d call that a win!
My thanks to Feargal O’Kane, Eithne Shortall, and the whole crew.
It has now been announced that Bridgerton is the biggest ever new series on Netflix, with a staggering 82 million viewers so far. This is especially exciting to me as a writer of historical romance – and Regency Romance in particular. People like this stuff!
Romance is one of the top genres in fiction. A Mills & Boon/Harlequin book is bought somewhere in the world every ten seconds. People like it. There is no formula to the writing, beyond a central love story and a happy ending. As I tried to say in all of the recent press work, people enjoy a story that helps them feel good, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yes, sometimes we want to read a book or listen to music or watch a film/show that makes us think, or cry, or learn. But sometimes we just want an engaging story that ends with the goodies winning, the baddies getting their comeuppance and the couple together. And what is wrong with that? Not. One. Thing.