When I was a little girl, I would create romantic stories in my imagination, and once I learned to write, it was natural for me to set down those stories on paper. I don’t recall exactly when the thought of publishing romance novels came to me – sometime in my teens, when I began studying literature at school while voraciously reading adult romances at home – but certainly that dream has been a big part of my life ever since.
Since my debut novel, Burning Embers, was released in 2014, I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing industry, and it’s struck me that the romance genre is not always afforded the same respect as other genres, like literary, science and crime fiction.
I do not agree with this – and neither does the British author Milly Johnson, who was recently given the Outstanding Achievement Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Her acceptance speech at the 2020 RNA Awards, published by The Bookseller, really struck a chord with me, and with many other romance writers.
Milly talked about the ‘prejudice that somehow authors of our genre write lesser books’ and yet, she pointed out, ‘we sell these lesser books by the millions’. Romance is right up here in the top-five bestselling genres.
The reason for its popularity is simple. Romance books are warmth and light and comfort. They offer a much-needed escape from the complexities and stresses of life. They provide solace, and they inspire and empower the reader. They are the literary equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate, an armchair by the fire and a chat with a dear friend.
With all these benefits, how can romances be deemed inferior – silly or fluffy, a genre to feel a little embarrassed to be reading or writing? As Milly pointed out:
‘There is plenty of space for other books beside the tragic and the challenging. There is nothing wrong with a happy, hopeful ending, nothing wrong with making someone laugh as they read your words, or a good old heart-warming love story.’
‘Hopeful’ – that is what characterises the romance novel. In a world full of anxiety, with news headlines that weigh heavily on the mind, we all need hope, that love exists and it can heal us and unite us.
I will always read romances and write romances, and I will always be proud to do so, because it feels to me that every happy-ever-after is a candle of hope. And if we light enough candles, we can hold back the darkness.