It is a truth universally acknowledged that when two or more crime writers are gathered together, one of them will say, ‘But of course, Romantic Novelists are the ones who really plunge the knife between the shoulder blades.’ All laugh.
Last night at the Crime and Thriller Awards, it was Ian Rankin.
Bum. Because Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors and I wanted him to be – well – not up for a lazy laugh, frankly.
To some extent, I see why he did it. Of course, it ought to be true. Writers live by dramatic irony, after all. In real life, the gore and cruelty merchants should be stamp-collecting trainers of guide dogs for the blind. The love-conquers-all mob should demean their rivals, dispose of surplus spouses and destroy the universe while they’re at it.
But life isn’t like that.
I’ve just been diving through the Archive of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, in fifty years, what comes across most strongly is the sheer good heartedness of most of them. No spite, no briefing against. There are disagreements, of course; even rows. (Usually when there wasn’t enough tea. But then that first generation was mainly from a class who Told Cook and hadn’t actually had to provide it themselves before. They soon adjusted.) But they liked each other and they had a damn good time – and genuinely rejoiced in fellow writers’ success, especially those who came through the RNA’s unique New Writers’ Scheme. In fact some, like Sheila Walsh and Elizabeth Harrison, stayed on for life, through chairing the organisation and beyond.
And they, we, have gone on doing it for fifty years.
I didn’t find the Romantic Novelists’ Association until well into my career, and I can honestly say I’ve never found so many friends and like minds in one place before – though we quite often disagree. And from those who don’t like me, I receive courtesy and a hearing. How many organisatons of 700 people can you say that about?
To be honest, the worst you can say about Romantic Novelists is that we can be just a touch defensive. Rosie M Banks we can take. (Well, actually, some of us are enthusiasts.) George Orwell we have learned to live with – romantic novels should be read by ‘wistful spinsters and fat wives of tobacconists’. But when fellow popular novelists call us back-stabbing harridans, it hurts
And it’s not true.