I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend of a friend who told me she wanted to buy my novel Return to Desiree Bay for her 87-year-old mother.
She said her mother ‘loved romance novels’.
I didn’t take offence but I did note her tone of voice. To my sensitive ears, it implied that ‘romance novels’ only appealed to the elderly or to someone without the capacity to read anything of substance.
I suggested to the friend of a friend that she might also like to read the book because it wasn’t all about the romance between the main protagonist and her love interest, the hot surfer with a mysterious past!
When I dropped the book over to her place, I put a note in it to explain the difference between ‘category romance’ and ‘contemporary fiction with romantic elements’. And I mentioned the inclusion of swearing, a loving same-sex relationship, and a graphic sex scene where the bedroom door remains open to the reader.
This incident made me think about the dismissive attitude that persists around novels that aren’t considered to be literary enough; novels where two people fall in love and (gasp) the story comes together with a satisfying happy ending. Just like one of the world’s most celebrated novels with romantic elements, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Romance writing per se has had a bad rap for a long time, but I would argue that most door-stop literary novels are, at their core, romances, no matter how heavy or traumatic the content.
And, I would also add that romance sells way more copies than literary prize winners. Everybody knows about Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series (Regency romance) but who’s read the 2022 Man Booker Prize novel, Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell? (Of course, someone has read it! But you know what I mean?)
I’m pretty happy to pop my novel into the ‘beach read’ box, or to describe it as ‘Uplit’. But I’d also like to think that readers will get something more from my story that revolves around the Summerhayes family of Desiree Bay, even if it’s just a warm fuzzy feeling or a restored faith in human nature.