Or Why You Should Never Be Embarrassed About Writing What You Love
In my teenage years I was made to feel that it was somehow shameful and extremely uncoool to either read or write romances. Particularly of the Mills & Boon variety. And not just by that school librarian who confronted me in the school library and forcibly took away my current stash of Mills & Boon stories, replacing them with “proper” books, or by that English teacher who marked down from A to B the short romance I’d offered as my creative writing project because it was “too women’s magazine.”
My peer group, my school friends, also found it pretty hilarious and would tease me mercilessly. At my part-time job (I was an usherette at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield) the front-of-house manager and my coworkers also took great delight in laughing at me for my choice of reading matter. Not because any of these people were bullies, or somehow bad, because they weren’t. They were good people. But in those days the reading or writing of romances was perceived as being somehow less worthy, not literary, too trashy. And anyway, so went the common wisdom, how easy these books were to write. Anyone could write one!
I got the message. I felt named and shamed. And peer-group pressure is a tricky thing to deal with when you are only sixteen or seventeen years old.
I still went to the second-hand book exchange in Sheffield market with my grandmother, where we would exchange a bag of Mills & Boon books we’d already read for a new stash. I still devoured these romances with eagerness and delight. But I did it in secret.
And from that moment all reading I did on the bus or anywhere else in public comprised only what was considered to be worthy literature written by “real” writers, like E. M. Forster, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence. And so on. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reading all kinds of books of many genres, whether they were fictional or not (and still do), but I still loved romances.
What was wrong with me? The answer to that was absolutely nothing. It was society’s perception of what was considered good reading that was wrong, but I had to grow up a bit more and develop a thicker skin before I could work that out.Several years later, when my children were small, I decided to find out just how easy it was to write a Mills & Boon romance. The answer to that: not at all easy. Over the course of ten years I wrote about twenty stories for Mills & Boon, and they were all rejected. And after some time spent attending professional writing workshops, and time spent honing my craft, I submitted—and had accepted for publication—my first romantic comedy.
And if anyone derides me these days for writing trashy, worthless books, my answer is this: “You write a romance, get a literary agent, have the book published, and then come back and tell me how easy it was for you.”
Thanks Michelle Cunnah!