On the thirteenth day of CoDI, Amy got me wondering, could I write a romance novel?
Amy Burge: Can Anyone Write a Romance Novel?
I like to think about the past. Specifically, I’m interested in how historical perspectives can help us think differently about the way love, relationships, gender and sexuality are represented in popular literature. In other words, how can history help us change the future?
My background is in literature and gender. I completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature and followed this up with a Masters and a PhD in Literature and Women’s Studies at the University of York.
Since then, I’ve researched and published on masculinity, virginity, religion and ethnicity in various kinds of popular culture, particularly romance. In fact, I’ve just published a book comparing the way relationships between Muslims and Christians are represented in medieval and modern popular romance (Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance).
So why romance novels?
I have a small obsession when it comes to romance novels. After completing my Masters and PhD studies in literature and women’s studies, I became fascinated with this predominantly women-authored, women-read genre of literature that out-performs pretty much every other genre literature in sales and readership. Historical, medical, supernatural, paranormal, workplace, holiday romance – every 5 seconds, a new Mills & Boon novel is sold in the UK.
In other words, everyone is reading romance.
But while romance might be the best-selling type of genre fiction, it doesn’t enjoy quite the same respect. In fact, romance is one of the most derided, mocked, misunderstood literary genres out there. This is despite the fact that it’s been around for hundreds of years (since at least the Middle Ages).
One of the main criticisms against popular romance is that it’s formulaic – the idea that the story is always the same, with a few elements changed each time. This makes it easy to claim that anyone can write a romance novel.
But can they? Could you?
How does this tie in with your show?
My show aims to introduce the romance novel to an audience who might never have even picked one up. My question for the audience is this – could we, collaboratively, write a romance novel? What would it look like? Is it really as easy as we think it is? And does the genre perhaps deserve a little more respect?
Together, over the course of the show, we’ll pick our favourite characters, setting, title, and plot to storyboard our collaborative romance novel. There might even be a dramatic reading or two. We’ll talk readership, motifs, storylines, and of course, sex.
What’s more, the first 50 audience members to sit down will receive a free romance novel, kindly donated by Harlequin Mills & Boon.
My aim is to encourage the audience to take romance seriously, just for an hour. Even if they’ve never picked up a romance novel before, I’ll encourage them to put any judgement aside, and really think about the question: “can anyone write a romance novel?”
Why did you choose to take part in CoDI 2016?
This is my first Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. I’m really excited about hearing what the audience has to say about these romance novels. Discussions about these books are often hilarious, and so I’m sure everyone will have a really good time. It’s probably clear from my research that I find this whole genre fascinating. Consequently, I’m most looking forward to hopefully persuading others that there is something to this romance thing after all.
What’s more, University English literature classrooms don’t often discuss romance novels. In fact, I can recount numerous occasions (including in a job interview) where academics have asked me how I could possibly research these trashy, samey, formulaic books. In my experience, many of the really interesting, detailed, and productive conversations about romance novels comes from outside the university, and that’s why I chose to participate in CoDI.
Amy’s show takes place on Tuesday 16th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)
Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/110/performance/1545/book-tickets