Like many people who spent this past weekend at the RNA conference in the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, I’m coming down from a high. So many friends, old and new, so many fascinating books to buy, so many ideas. . . I am slowly writing up my notes and am struck by two things which other people said and one which I thought myself:
1) Romance is turning into the genre that dare not speak its name. A publisher told us that the readers wanted romance (mystery with an element of romance outsells mystery without it) but didn’t want it called that. So call your romantic suspense ‘psychological suspense’ and you’re in with a better chance of a publishing deal. Later, editors told us they were looking for ‘stealth romance’.
Somehow in the twenty-first century, when every sort of sexual encounter is commonplace in film and television and extreme swearing is positively de rigueur for the aspiring comedian, we have managed to make romance unacceptable. Um – why? And who does it so bitterly offend? Needs thinking about, that.
2) A thoughtful talk from the RNA’s Koh-i-Noor (copyright Katie Fforde, that one) asserted ‘Romance is not trivial.’ As one who has always said that, when you fall in love, you might as well load a gun and pass it across into the hands of the beloved, I completely agree. Romantic love is dangerous. It can make people crazy. Even if they hang on to some sort of normality, it can still make them do (and think) completely new things that would never have occurred to them before. It is a very big adventure. And what are we, if we refuse the call to adventure?
3) And now my own Brilliant Thought – well, okay, what occurred to me as I walked back under a glimmering night sky, with the Thames hushing and slushing to my right, Canary Wharf all lit up across the water and a strong whiff of fish in the air …
Even though romance is not trivial, it can be playful. (Think of the disguised Rosalind teasing Orlando in As You Like It. She ties him up in knots but, once he’s gone, she says to Celia, ‘Oh coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know the fathom deep I am in love’. Quite.) Teasing and fantasy are all part of the adventure, from Mills & Boon to An Equal Music.
Which brings me to my last point. Up-cheering. Now the buzz is over, I am feeling a bit flat. So I went to The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser for a quick fix. And it was such a shot in the arm, I thought I would share a little, in case other people are feeling down, too.
Captain Avery was everything that a hero of historical romance should be; he was all of Mr Sabatini’s supermen rolled into one, and he knew it. The sight of him was enough to make ordinary men feel they were wearing odd socks, and women to go weak at the knees. … His finely chiselled features bespoke both the man of action and the philosopher, their youthful lines tempered by a maturity beyond his years; there was beneath his composed exterior a hint of steely power, etc., etc. You get the picture.
… In short, Captain Avery was the young Errol Flynn, only more so, with a dash of Power and Redford thrown in; the answer to a maiden’s prayer, and between ourselves rather a pain in the neck. For besides being gorgeous, he had a starred first from Oxford, could do the hundred in evens, played the guitar to admiration, helped old women across the street, kept his fingernails clean, said his prayers, read Virgil and Aristophanes for fun, and generally made the Admirable Crichton look like an illiterate snob. However, he is vital if you are to get the customers in.
Ah yes. The customers. God bless ’em, every one.