Guest blogger: Bronwyn Parry
No one’s actually said to me ‘When are you going to write a real book?’ but I often see the question in some people’s eyes. So, why do I write and read romances?
Romances tell stories. Stories of many types are vital to the ways in which we come to understand the world and ourselves. Stories enlarge our ‘library’ of ideas, possibilities and choices.
Romances are pretty honest about love. Now, before you laugh and say but it’s all a fantasy, an escape, love isn’t always hunky heroes and beautiful heroines and orgasmic-every-time-multiple-times-sex … there’s a fundamental, underlying story in every romance that is important and honest: Romances tell us that love isn’t easy, that there will be challenges, but that it’s possible to work through those challenges with respect and commitment.
That’s a powerful and affirming story. And, given that most people will have at least one significant partner or spouse during their life, it’s a very relevant story to all of us.
I’ve been reading romances for around forty years. I’ve also read literary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, classic fiction—so many different novels, poems and plays. But I’d like to outline here five things that I learnt from romance novels when I was a girl growing up, more so than other genres. Even in the lightest, fluffiest, most escapist romances, you’ll find these five ‘stories’ affirmed, and while they’re rarely presented in the books as ‘feminist’ ideas, as a middle-aged feminist I can now see how strongly they affirm feminist values. This is what I learned:
- You deserve to be respected. There can be no love without respect. Respect is the absolute foundation of love, and if there’s no respect, attraction cracks and crumbles and becomes worthless. I can’t think of a heroine in a romance novel who didn’t deserve respect. As a girl and a young woman, that was a powerful ‘story’ to read, again and again.
- You deserve to be loved. Romances affirm love, and in making it central to the story and presenting so many different heroines and heroes, it also affirms that each of us deserve to be loved for who we are. While the heroines are often beautiful and slim and young, that’s not what the hero ultimately loves.
- You always have a right to say no. Even in the 1970s, when the powerful, overbearing hero was the norm—typically in historicals in the US, and in contemporary Mills and Boons in the UK and Australia—there was almost always a point in the book at which the heroine drew a line. Even when trapped by social and financial circumstance, even when she had little power, she still made it clear—in words or actions—that she deserved better and would not accept less than what she deserved: respect, love, consideration and commitment.These days the heroes aren’t so overbearing, modern women usually have more agency and confidence, and the relationships are more equal. But we still often see the heroine drawing a line and saying, ‘no, I deserve better than this’. And sometimes it’s now the hero who draws the line when the heroine is holding back on emotional commitment or respect.
- Love is a verb and a successful relationship needs two people who actively love. Romance novels aren’t about being ‘in love’. They’re about loving. They’re about paying attention to the loved one, giving and taking, communicating and negotiating and actively seeking to understand and build a lasting relationship. A lot of other genres have people falling simply ‘in’ or ‘out’ of love or lust, but romance as a genre explores love in more depth and complexity.
- Emotional strength and maturity are more important to happiness than physical, financial or social power. When I was working in management in the 1990s, the new theories of emotional intelligence as a critical element of workplace success gained a great deal of research interest. I read several of the key books. The research was solid. But when you look back at some classic women’s fiction—the things Mrs March and Mrs Ingalls taught their daughters, for example—what they’re encouraging is emotional intelligence, strength and maturity. And when you look at romance novels, the emotional journey that the characters make leads to greater understanding of their own emotions and those of their loved ones.
I’m proud to read and write romances, and I hope that my stories resonate with readers and affirm the strength and value of love.
My fifth romantic thriller, Storm Clouds, is out this month and available through all good book sellers.
National Parks ranger Erin Taylor loves her job, is falling for her colleague, Simon, and is finally leaving her past behind …
Until a woman is murdered. But the victim is not just any woman—she’s Simon’s wife, Hayley. The wife he’s never mentioned. The wife he’s not seen in fourteen years. On the edge of the national park the alternative lifestyle community of ‘Simple Bliss’ denies knowledge of Hayley, but Simon and Erin suspect otherwise. Erin will have to draw on all her old skills—deception, lying, cheating—to gain the trust of its members and discover their secrets.
As Simon uncovers shocking details about the reclusive group, Erin is drawn further into their midst and finds a web of lies, decades old—and comes face-to-face with the charismatic, manipulative, dangerous leader who will let nothing and no-one stand in his way. On the wrong side of a river in flood that has become a lethal torrent, Erin and Simon must race to expose the truth and prevent a tragedy …