By Tanya Nellestein The Sydney Morning Herald
Romance author Lia Riley once said, “I write romance because two things can save the world: love and books. So why not be efficient?” And she must be on to something, because romance is the highest-selling genre in publishing.
I spent a year interviewing the authors who meet our literary romantic needs, and what I’ve learnt about love and lust has been eye-opening. Here are the top lessons I’ve discovered.
“Informed consent is deliciously and explicitly present in more recent romance novels, and like many other feminist movements, romance authors are leading the charge on this.”Credit:Getty Images
Lesson 1: Everything is romance, even action films
Consider the plot for all three trilogies within the Star Wars franchise – boy from the wrong side of the moons falls for courageous and beautiful girl who has sworn to fight for the freedom of the galaxy. Without this central love story, nothing exists. If Padmé Amidala and Anakin don’t fall in love, there is no Luke and Leia. If Leia and Han don’t fall in love, there is no Ben. If Rey and Ben don’t fall in love, they are both lost and the galaxy is doomed.
Author Dakota Harrison explains why everyone’s favourite Christmas movie, Die Hard, is also a romance. “Holly Gennaro left her husband, John McClane, for a job he thought she’d fail, and instead, she excelled. He realised his mistake and came to apologise and fix the mess he made
of their marriage.
“But John’s ultimate goal? To save his wife so he can show her how much he still loves her. The situation and outside events are incidental to the fact that he is there for her, and his priority is saving her life because he loves her.”
So the next time your not-so-romantic other half wants to see an action film, grab the popcorn and dive right into the love.
Lesson 2: Not all heroes are buff billionairesAll hail the original alpha. He looks tough but was raised as a gentleman. He’s a natural protector who knows how to treat a woman. I am, of course, referring to the heroes of the outback.
Rural romance, sometimes referred to as small town-romance, is set in remote areas and features men whose muscles come from working hard, not working out. And they’re looking for
a feisty woman to settle down with.
Rachael Johns, award-winning author and converted country girl, has found country boys to be “good, decent, honest and hard-working men who care about others in the community”.
“I like to write about real heroes and relatable characters,” explains country-born-and-bred writer Tricia Stringer. “It’s not so much what they look like, but their character.”
Honest, decent, hard-working and in need of a feisty woman to love … sounds like the makings
of a reality-TV show!
Lesson 3: Forget the damsel in distress
“We are writing women who don’t need a man, but when they do take one, it’s on their terms,” says international bestselling author Clare Connelly.
In fact, romance novels give a more accurate portrayal of real-life women than other entertainment mediums. We are not damsels in distress who require rescuing by men. Nor are we a breed of superhumans manufactured in a lab (or as a result of the gods procreating with mortals).
Women are strong, independent and more than capable of rescuing themselves and anyone else that needs it.
But that doesn’t mean a woman is against being swept off her feet. Romance-suspense novelist Sandy Vaile writes heroines who, when the proverbial hits the fan, aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, or stand up and fight for what’s right.
“All of this strength doesn’t mean they’re not feminine and looking for love,” Vaile explains. “The challenge is to find a hero who is self-assured enough to be her equal and fight alongside her.”
Speculative fiction author Aiki Flinthart has a similar philosophy. “The men and women are equal, meaning no one dominates or denigrates the other,” she says. “I feel that a strong woman is one who is comfortable in her own skin and knows she can stand face to face, equal to anyone, without having to tread on them to get ahead.”
Lesson 4: Sex on the page is empowering
While many of us chase the Holy Grail of a HEA (Happily Ever After), there is definitely a place for getting your immediate needs met (winking emoji), whether it’s with “the one” or simply HFN (Happy For Now).
Clare Connelly has written more than 80 books full of heart-racing romance. “In my books sparks fly, clothes fly faster, and love is born,” she says. “Reading about sex removes some of the taboos that have previously existed. It enables a woman to own her sexuality and understand what a healthy, fulfilling sexual relationship looks like.”
For some, their schools and families didn’t talk about sex and the issues surrounding it. Many have had to use romance novels to learn about consent, respect … and orgasms. “A satisfying sex life is something we’re all entitled to,” adds Connelly.
Lesson 5: The truth about consent
It’s not optional. Whether brushing your lips against his or ripping each other’s clothes off and having crazy, hot sex against the wall, there must be consent. And a condom.
“Many people mistakenly believe that asking for consent isn’t sexy,” says author Kerrie Starbuck. “They are very, very wrong. Informed consent is deliciously and explicitly present in more recent romance novels, and like many other feminist movements, romance authors are leading the charge on this.”
Lesson 6: Fairy tales can come true
Kings and queens, princes and princesses – what is it about them that we love so much? “As a nation, we have grown up with the familiarity of the royal fairy tale,” says author Kelly Hunter. “The power, the privilege, the riches – it’s quite aspirational. And who doesn’t love a royal wedding?” Not to mention a royal baby!
An ordinary girl meets a handsome prince, falls head over heels in love, gets married and is whisked off to rule a foreign land by his side. Our own Mary Donaldson proved that meeting Prince Charming at the local pub, falling in love and becoming the Crown princess of a foreign land is possible, thus keeping the fairy tale alive. Let’s not dwell too long on Harry and Meghan, however …
“The fantasy of living that gilded life is very appealing,” says Hunter.
“And because they don’t want for material things, it’s all about their personal and physical needs.”
Lesson 7: Love transcends even the greatest horrors
There are few things more horrifying than war. But even then, love can save us. “Everything is fragile but love is untouchable,” says bestselling author Kelly Rimmer. “During World War II, the Nazis took everything, but not love. Love is what kept people going. Love is immortal, transcending even death.”
Historical romance novelist Pamela Hart says that emotions are “so strong” during wartime: “Life and death. People make decisions they usually wouldn’t because of the romanticism of perhaps never seeing someone again.”
Romantic stories teach us not to wait for tomorrow but to take a chance on love now.