There’s this natty little function on the Sydney Writer’s Festival website that allows you to search for events by genre.
There’s fiction, of course (more than 60 events, mostly literary fiction) but also more ‘niche’ genres, such as crime (16 events), sport (6 events), even spirituality and religion (6 events).
But have a guess at how many events fall under the ‘romance’ genre – that huge, billion dollar segment of the global publishing market? There’s one. Yep. One.
I don’t get it. Why the prejudice? Do romance writers have nothing interesting to say? Does the ‘litterati’ consider mainstream fiction to be devoid of ideas? Of interest?
If that’s the case, I have to disagree.
Take, for example, Josephine Moon’s recent release The Beekeeper’s Secret. On the surface, this has all the elements of the Josephine Moon brand of ‘foodie fiction’ that we’ve come to know and love – mouth watering descriptions of food, interesting and detailed knowledge about the processes of making that food (in this case, the wonderful world of beekeeping), and characters who are entirely lovable, but also flawed – in the good way.
What we don’t expect is a story that touches on abuse within the catholic church. Who expects commercial fiction to go there? Well, Josephine Moon does. And she does it with a lightness of touch which, given the subject matter, is quite a feat. You think writing that is easy?
Let’s move onto another recent Australian release – Mark Lamprell’s The Lovers’ Guide to Rome. It’s written in what I would call a ‘plait’ style – three, apparently disconnected story lines that all come together in the end – if you think ‘Love Actually‘ (the movie) you’re on the right track.
In this case, Lamprell (also the author of The Full Ridiculous) brings us three separate love stories – there’s young Alice, in Rome for a final fling before settling down to marry her ‘safe’ boyfriend. There’s married couple, Meg and Alec, who once fell in love in the eternal city but return to it with the relationship in tatters. And there’s Constance, who’s come to Rome with sister-in-law, Lizzie, to scatter the ashes of her husband, Henry, but can’t quite bring herself to let go.
What’s quite unusual about this book is the omniscient narratorial perspective. The story is told by Rome’s ‘spirit of place’:
‘I oscillate within the floors and walls of Rome, and while my presence accentuates her beauty, this is merely a by-product of my specialty, which is, and always has been, the labyrinthine machinations and mysteries of the heart. I am, to be specific, a Genius of Love.’
It’s kind of bizarre, isn’t it? But it also works. We do end up caring about these people because we can see into the hearts of each one of them. Again, you think that’s easy?
Finally, I want to mention Rose’s Vintage – a debut novel from Kayte Nunn, the former editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine. Appropriately enough, the story is set in the fictional wine-growing region of the Shingle Valley, where young, heart-broken British traveller, Rose, arrives to take on the role of au-pair for local vigneron, Mark Cameron – a father of two who has also suffered his share of heartbreak.
This book is a slightly different spin on the rural romance genre that’s been such a huge hit for the publishing industry over the past few years. And you can see why. There’s something inherently decent about rural townships – they are ‘communities’ in every sense of the word – and Nunn certainly succeeds in bringing the characters of the Shingle Valley to life. It is inexplicably satisfying to read about good people who get their happy endings, albeit with a few little bumps along the way to keep us interested. This kind of book demands a writer leave their cynicism at the door, and open their hearts to warmth and goodness. You think that’s easy?
It’s not. And I, for one, would like to know more about how these writers make these books work as would, I’m sure, many other aspiring writers.
Therefore, to organisers of literary festivals everywhere, I make this plea – please think of us when you’re planning your events.
As for that one, lonely ‘romance’ talk at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, it sounds like an absolute cracker – featuring Toni Jordan, Kate Forsyth and John Purcell. So, of course, I logged in to book a ticket but found it’s a free event. No bookings taken. I suppose that’s a positive – who can complain about a free ticket? Or is it a comment on the way the genre is valued?