‘All you Need is Love’

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Photo credit: Simon Shek via Foter.com / CC BY

OK, so. I have a confession. Here goes… I am writing a romance novel… And not only that, it’s a fantasy romance novel. Oh God! I sound like such a twat. Me, a self-professed lifelong feminist, who regularly champions the belief that we as a gender do not need saving by a white knight. Only we can truly save ourselves. We are not princesses — we are the queens of our own queendoms. And yet here I am writing a book that in all intents and purposes would, on the surface, make me just another woman offering (and actively participating in) the same old lie. It is quite telling that since I made the decision to write the thing, I have shrouded myself in so much shame that it has crushed me. So much so that when friends have asked, “So what are you writing about?”, I have  responded vaguely and shiftily. I mean the big question is why? Why would I, as an adult and feminist, want to enter into a genre that often perpetuates the toxic idea that to be truly happy you need a man (or a woman)?

OK, OK, let me explain. I shall start at the beginning…

Once upon a time… Urgh sorry, focus!

It was a couple of years ago when, in a failing relationship and not wanting to admit it, I was deeply miserable and unhappy. At the time I found solace in erotica and romance as a way to experience the passion I was missing at home. As I entrenched my life with fiction it became more than an escape — it was a life line, helping me see that I wanted more. More from life and more from a relationship that was slowly sinking against my will. As my life finally changed and I grew, those novels morphed into something else. When I was down and depressed, or just having a stressful day there I would be reading in my bed, safe and happy, entrenched in another person’s life and experiences, even if they were fictional.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still a snob; I can’t stand paying for a book that feels like it has been written by angsty teenager (and believe me I have read some shockers that would give an angst-ridden teenager a bad name). There are also a surprising amount of sexist and misogynistic female writers out there. Who knew?! I didn’t, much to my naivety. But like most fanatic readers I can pretty much consume most stories.

But again, I ask myself, why have I decided to write a romance novel?

Well, the simplest answer is because I want to. I want to write about what interests me. And for seven years romance and erotica has interested me. As I matured the more I learned and woke up to that fact that, whilst there is so much that is wrong with romance novels, there is also so much that can be right with them too. I want to write something that is funny and modern and that actually doesn’t point to the same old trope that to be a likable and good woman you have to be a virgin and/or have very little experience with men (Yes, still in 2016, there are writers who still believe in making the sexually active characters the ‘bitches’ and ‘sluts’. Don’t worry, I left more than a few scathing reviews).

As I matured the more I learned and woke up to that fact that, whilst there is so much that is wrong with romance novels, there is also so much that can be right with them too.

And maybe a lot of my shame comes from the fact that the genre has acquired such gross labels like bonk buster and chick lit. Not only do these make me want to vomit in my mouth (they are so damn middle England, conjuring images of flaccid, overweight, sweaty middle aged men trying to talk dirty to their unsatisfied wives), they degrade a subject that, if done properly, can explore the very real issues of sex and power —two things that interest me greatly. Sex in fiction is all too often reduced to fluffy and sweet and just that tiny bit embarrassing for everyone involved when the protagonist is a woman. Yet when Frank Underwood talks about it in his beautiful drawl we are all ears. Anyone else remember his incredible line from the show?: “A great man once said, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power” (House of Cards).

If this resonates with you then I also suggest you read Sally Beauman.

After reading about Beauman and her novels I have realized I can be both a romance novelist AND a feminist. My protagonist is certainly no wilting flower, and you bet she doesn’t look to the male lead to save her. I will certainly NOT be including marriage at the end of the book as a way to give her a happy ending and reinforce the old belief that marriage is all she needs to find her purpose in life. And who knows if there will be babies? I certainly won’t be rehashing the hideous idea that to be a good person you have to put everyone else’s needs and dreams before your own. Hell, I’ll even make my protagonist swear like a trooper just because I can, and because swearing is just really fun.

I will do all these things and more because I want to, and because I can. I am so damn tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be, how I should or shouldn’t behave or act as a woman and as a feminist. Right from birth we as a gender are confined to our little box, where we are expected to stay for our whole lives, and now at 35 I can say I’m done with that restrictive dogma. Because ultimately isn’t that what feminism is? A choice to do whatever we want and be whoever we want to be? So what if I want to write a romance novel? I love sex and reading about it. And there’s a market out there that would lap it up. It’s not like I’m some dickhead that will use rape or disability as a tool to push the story forward (*cough* Me Before You *cough*).

And if writing romance means I am able to give just one person out there a little comfort in times of need then who am I to judge that or feel shame about it?

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Ailsa is a London based writer and blogger with a background in theatre and performing arts.