Sydney Writers Festival
Last month the Sydney Writers Festival featured a panel discussion with romance authors. In the romance community this was a really big deal, as SWF was the last of the big festivals to include romance in their program. The panel was very well attended and by all accounts a great success. Victoria Purman very kindly wrote a wrap-up article for us …
Romance hit Sydney Harbour at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival and what an incredible day it turned out to be.
Who would have thought it? Romance writers and publishers hobnobbing in the Green Room! There was coffee and cake, although I think we were too nervous to eat.
Who would have believed it? Romance writers and publishers being escorted to a rather enormous room—Sydney Dance 2—on one of the harbour’s historic piers! When we saw the queue of people lining up outside we thought it was for another panel.
And then this!
I quickly snapped this pic from the stage, as host Jodi McAllister, Escape Publishing’s Kate Cuthbert and fellow author Avril Tremayne and I looked out to the crowd.
When we saw the full house, we all looked at each other and came over all giddy.
Thank you to all the wonderful ARRA members and RWA members who came along to support romance. The best way to convince festivals like this one to schedule more sessions on romance in the future is to get the crowds there and you all delivered!
Jodi McAllister did a fabulous job hosting the session and she began with such enthusiasm and energy that it carried us all along for the hour.
We discussed our first romance novels. Kate Cuthbert’s first Mills and Boon was Dreaming by Charlotte Lamb and from the oohs and aahs coming up from the audience, many people remembered that one.
Avril Tremayne’s was The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss—more oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Mine was Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie.
Jodi used those questions to then lead us on to a discussion about the ways in which romance has changed, and we talked about alpha heroes, issues of consent in those older romance novels, and how the dynamics of a romance between the hero and the heroine have changed as the role of women in our culture has developed and grown.
There was a general consensus that, these days, authors like to write—and readers love to read—about women who are strong and funny; women who are feminists; and who are trying to navigate their place in the world. I also added that, far from the cliché about being rescued by a man, I like heroines and heroes to save each other.
And yes, we talked about sex. Of course! Avril commented that one reader complained one of her books didn’t have enough sex in it. I suggested the reader should have read it twice!
Kate Cuthbert added that there is nothing more feminist than the female orgasm, and I’m sure there were ‘hear hears’ coming from the audience. Heroines in modern romances, Jodi added, are allowed to want sex and enjoy it. Romance is a genre that takes female pleasure seriously and prioritises it, she said.
We went on to discuss why all romance is not the same, especially in the light of Australian romances. Jodi asked if we have an Australian tradition of romance and if we do, what does it look like?
For me, Australian romance is about an Australian voice and the familiarity of the setting. That’s why I write about where I live, and I make sure my heroines are funny and my heroes are laconic and self-deprecating, that they capture that peculiarly Aussie trait of being able to laugh at themselves.
Amy Andrews was mentioned numerous times as an author who really gets the sass right in her characters.
And yes, there was a question about Fifty Shades of Grey and Kate Cuthbert handled that superbly, describing that while it was hugely popular, it really wasn’t so much with romance readers. She explained that it embodies very conservative values about sex and the role of women, with just enough kink to allow people to think it’s saucy. But, as Avril pointed out, its success got people talking about romance and erotica, which can only be a good thing.
And in response to an audience question, Kate talked about the language of romance, the use of tougher language like c**k and c**t and how that pleases some readers and not others.
We left the stage buzzing and wishing we could continue the discussion longer. Avril and I headed to the book shop and signed copies of our books, a thrill from which I’m sure we will never recover!
On a personal note, I’d like to thank my publisher Harlequin, for bringing me to Sydney and being so supportive. I’d also like to thank Kat, Laurie Ormond and Vassiliki Veros, who live tweeted our panel. I’ve referenced their tweets to remember what we all said, because my head was in a bit of a spin at the time.
A podcast of the panel will be posted soon on the SWF website in case you want to listen in. I hope you do—we got plenty of laughs among all the serious discussion.
[This article first appeared in the June 2015 ARRA newsletter.]