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Guest blogger: Rania Battany

8 March 2020

Last year I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference, which held a panel discussing diversity in romance novels. Around the same time, I was thinking of including an Australian-born Middle Eastern character in my latest manuscript. Not just any character—the hero. But I struggled to fully commit to the idea. My main intention at the time was to write an interracial romance without making the ‘interracial’ part a primary driver of the plot. I wanted to represent an aspect of romance in Australia I seldom saw in romance novels. After all, I’m an Australian-born Lebanese woman married to a white Australian man.

Looking back, it seems strange to me now that I was hesitant to write about a Middle Eastern character. But it’d become clear to me during the diversity panel that my hesitation stemmed from having never read an Australian-based romance that featured a Middle Eastern hero, and I was nervous about how this would be received. (I’d like to add that I’m not suggesting these books aren’t out there—I just haven’t come across any.) It got me thinking. I shouldn’t be nervous to write a book closer to my reality: an interracial romance starring Middle Eastern characters.

It was shortly after this that the Stolen Hearts series was born—four books all featuring interracial relationships—with Book 1, Call Me Lucy, featuring a Middle Eastern hero. The aim of this series was not only to represent ethnically diverse romance in Australia but also to represent Middle Eastern characters in an everyday sense—not as the billionaire sheikh—but the everyday Aussie.

When I wrote Call Me Lucy, I focused on the love story rather than emphasising the fact that it was an interracial romance. The heroine, Lucy—a white Australian woman—has amnesia and knows nothing about herself. Without giving away the story, she somehow comes to live with Billy. Throughout the book, Lucy often refers to her new environment as feeling ‘different’. Things such as food, language and general family life. Her acknowledgement of their differences never comes from a place of judgement, but a means of trying to make sense of her new reality and something she innately feels she’s never been exposed to.

Lucy suspects the language Billy and his family speaks is Arabic, but I intentionally didn’t highlight that as a significant part of the plot. Instead, I wove elements of his culture into the story, purposefully not revealing his ancestral heritage until the second-last chapter. This was very important to me, as I didn’t want any preconceived judgements or stereotypes formed around Billy being a Middle Eastern man. What I wanted was to normalise Australian-born Middle Eastern characters in romance novels. The three other books in the series—Letters to Leila, Choosing Lillian and Chasing Gabby—all feature Middle Eastern heroines.

At the very end of Call Me Lucy, after my author note, I explain a little about my connection to the story—about how I integrated snippets of growing up in a Lebanese family into the book, and how my husband (who I’ve been with for sixteen years) adjusted to our cultural differences. Since the book’s release, readers have reached out to let me know they’ve identified with many of the things I wrote about in their own interracial relationships. As an author hoping to connect with my readers, I can’t put into words how happy this made me.

But this wasn’t just about me, my heritage, or my own interracial relationship. This was more about representing the Australia that I knew. And the Australia I know is diverse.

I write modern-day romance, and I set all my stories in Australia. My friends and family are ethnically diverse, with most involved in an interracial relationship with people from many backgrounds. Not writing ethnically diverse characters into my stories now feels like a false representation of my Australia.

You can buy Call Me Lucy here.

You can find Rania here: Website | Facebook | BookBub | Goodreads | Instagram

Call Me Lucy

Protecting her is one thing. Saving her is another.

I’m told they don’t know how old I am, where I came from, or if I even have a home. All the doctors know is that I was hit by a car three weeks ago, lost my memory, and no one has tried to claim me since.

Not one person in the whole damn world knows who I am.

The social worker, Lillian, wants to put me in a shelter since I’m homeless. And nameless.

I prefer to be on the street than in a shelter.

Somehow, Lillian convinces me to live at her place. With her brother.

Billy.

Billy isn’t nice.

Billy has been told to protect me.

He’s given Lillian six weeks to get me out of there. But I refuse to be at his mercy, and I will do everything I can to discover my identity before my time is up … or die trying.

Until I find out who I am, he can call me Lucy.

 

9 Comments
  1. 9 March 2020 8:07 pm

    Thanks for such a lovely blog piece Rania, I’m off to download Call Me Lucy right now. It’s wonderful that you have given us an interracial story borne from your own lived experience. May there be many more!

    • 9 March 2020 9:39 pm

      Thank you so much, Davina. I hope you enjoy it. Xxxx

  2. 8 March 2020 8:25 pm

    Rania

    Call me Lucy is an amazing story, filled with emotions that pull a reader in you know how to do this so well I loved this story and am very much enjoying Choosing Lillian, these stories are all about love and feelings and finding happiness

    Have Fun

    Helen

    • 8 March 2020 8:50 pm

      Thank you so much, Helen. That is exactly what my stories are about, all the things you mentioned about. I’m so glad you enjoy reading my books. Xxxx

  3. Claire Louisa permalink
    8 March 2020 4:53 pm

    I think you did a great job of normalising Australian born middle eastern characters, I didn’t feel any sort of stigma attached to Billy’s character.

    • 8 March 2020 7:10 pm

      Thanks so much, Claire. It’s so great to hear as that was a very specific intention when writing this xx

  4. 8 March 2020 2:12 pm

    Congratulations Rania, Call Me Lucy is such a good read. You really know how to put the emotion into your work, which is the essence of romance writing.

    • rbattany permalink
      8 March 2020 3:08 pm

      Thank you so much xxx

    • rbattany permalink
      8 March 2020 6:25 pm

      Thanks so much, Claire. It’s so great to hear as that was a very specific intention when writing this xx

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