Monday, 20 March 2017

Book Release Day Goodness! Tempting the Deputy Giveaway

Yippee, it's finally almost here, tomorrow my first ever cowboy book goes on sale... Tempting the Deputy is also my first Marietta book for Tule Publishing.

I'm beyond excited because I completely adored writing about tough, taciturn and deliciously protective Deputy Logan Tate and the new thorn in his side, former wild child Charlotte Foster, the British photographer who has just turned up in Marietta, Montana, ready to make his life hell... In all sorts of hot and interesting ways – photographing him shirtless for a charity calendar being just one of them.

The first review is up on Goodreads, thank you so much to Maria, who said:

This was a really sweet and sexy romance, I loved it. The beginning is so well  done, I felt instantly attracted by the main characters, drawn by their strong personalities and the humor Heidi Rice infuses in the narrative.... You can't help but fall for this hero.

For a chance to win a digital copy of the book (either epub or .mobi) just enter the Rafflecopter below, by 28th March!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For details of the other four fabulous  books in the Men of Marietta series, buy links and a sneak peek of that opening scene check out the book's page on my website.

Or you can join the Main St Marietta page on Facebook for news about this series and others based in the small town with more than it's fair share of hotties!


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Fifty Shades Darker - a Romance Reader/Writer's review

As a romance reader and writer, it’s probably no surprise that I’m out and proud about having enjoyed reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I also enjoyed watching the original movie

Yes, it won a load of razzie awards, but I have a sneaking suspicion these may have been voted for by people who wouldn’t appreciate a romance novel if it knocked them over the head… That’s not to say there weren’t problems with that first movie - not least because it's remarkably hard to translate any pure romance novel to the screen, the story of a romance is mostly an internal one and well, movies can't exist inside someone's head (unless you're John Malkovich).. But I think Sam Taylor-Johnson did a terrific job of conveying the fantasy elements of the story and giving the film a distinctive look - in short she respected her material…

Remember folks, this is romantic fantasy. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously, it’s pure escapism. Whether you find it hot or not is a matter of personal taste of course… But one huge factor Taylor Johnson had in her favour, IMHO was the casting. Particularly of Dakota Johnson who brings a refreshing likability to what is at times a fairly daft role (if we’re going to take it seriously, which we’re not) as the virgin student with enough emotional maturity to fix a young and thoroughly broken billionaire with an S&M fetish.  Jamie Dornan too, for me, encapsulated a lot of what Christian Grey is about - gorgeous, brooding, traumatised and emotionally stunted.

So.. I’m not going to lie to you, when I heard Taylor-Johnson had been replaced by James Foley (whose big work was back in the 90s) and Saving Mr Banks scriptwriter Kelly Marcel replaced with EL James’ husband I was somewhat concerned about Fifty Shades Darker... The second in the trilogy of films.

So were my fears justified?

Well, yes in some ways. The film seems to want to have the story both ways, to concentrate on the developing romance between Christian and Ana - which despite that title is now less kinky and more playful as Christian begins to confront some of his many ‘issues’ - while also adding a daft thriller element, involving Ana’s new boss Jack Hyde and one of Christian's former subs. To be fair, James’s second book had the thriller element too, but in the film we get no build up and no pay off for either of the two thriller sub plots - like a Greek tragedy much of the action is conducted off screen, leaving the audience to feel cheated or simply confused. Spoiler alert: the film finishes with a dark, shadowy shot of Hyde setting him up as the villain for round 3 which left me and I’m sure most of the rest of the audience thinking WTH? Where did he come from? Why is he ominously smoking a cigarette in a park overlooking Seattle? I'm sure a few people might even have been wondering who he was!

Foley also has none of the wonderfully lush OTT imagery that made Taylor-Johnson’s first film such a guilty pleasure. This is at turns a very prosaic and yet rather coy handling of the material. And as usual with 18 films, we get to see lots of her and not a lot of him… Which is kind of a shame as eye candy choices go, because let’s face it, the main target audience for this film is heterosexual women...

Then again, the main strength of the first film is still there. Namely Dakota Johnson’s refreshing Ana (there’s a cute tribute to Dakota’s mum Melanie Griffith, see if you can spot it) and Jamie Dornan looks much more relaxed too, so his Christian is a less stiff (no pun intended).. Sadly though, this is the film where we want to see Christian and Ana actually start to fall in love. Ana challenges Christian to give her more, she wants to understand why he is so screwed up, but the film fails us. Both Marcia Gay Hardin as Christian’s adopted mother, and Kim Basinger as his former lover are totally wasted, their parts so cut down that they are reduced to cardboard cut outs - when in the books they help to explain a lot about Christian’s problems. And while Johnson and Dornan work overtime to inject the proceedings with humour - because surprise, surprise, folks there is actually quite a lot of humour in the books - very little of that is actually in the script.

All of that said, I still enjoyed this movie… But I think it was greatly helped by the two stars, my enjoyment of the OTT nature of the original books and also the fabulous venue where I went to see it and the company I saw it with… If you’re going to go for a guilty pleasure like Fifty Shades Darker, I’d highly recommend going with a fellow romance novelist (aka Abby Green) and seeing it at one of the Everyman cinemas, because not only can you share a sofa - putting you into your own little world - but they serve wine in bottles… And we needed it.

Happy Valentine's.... Or Galentine's ... Or Palentine's Day!

So it's Valentine's Day today... A time when all romance writers attempt to pimp their books a little bit more, because come on, what's more romantic novelist friendly than a day devoted to romance?

But the thing about Valentine's Day is, it can be a bit of a turn off for some people... And here are some of the reasons why:

Strawberries of Love from Lidl
1) It can be a little tiny bit over-commercialised (book-pimping notwithstanding) - a way to guilt people into spending money to prove they care about their other half when the truth is, if you love someone you show it every day in ways that are much more important than a card, or flowers or a heart-shaped box of choccies (or strawberries!). In my house this would include giving one of my sons a lift to his job when he's overslept, or agreeing to sample yet another Scandi crime drama with my DH because he loves them ... ie: it's the little things that count.

2) Depending on how you interpret it, V-Day can be alienating...  A smug fest for the happily joined up which makes single people feel as if they're missing out, when the fact is there's nothing wrong with being single. I was single for  years after university and it's a time in my life I look back on with quite a bit of envy occasionally. And being single is certainly better than being in a crap relationship – and I'm sure we've all had a few of those!

3) It can romanticize relationships when the reality is most relationships, certainly if they are going to last, can be bloody hard work (something any romance novel with tell you by the way, contrary to popular misconceptions about the genre....)

That said, me and my DH are still using tonight as a great excuse to have a slap-up meal at a local restaurant to smugly celebrate our love (and probably natter non-stop about the latest Scandi crime dramas!) But if you're feeling excluded from Valentine's Day... For whatever reason.... There are lots of other ways to celebrate...

Why not celebrate a belated Galentine's Day for example - the day for Gal Pals to celebrate their platonic lady-friendships enshrined by Amy Poehler's fabulous Leslie Knope (if you're not hooked on Parks and Recreation, btw, you should be).

As I'm a glutton for social interaction and any excuse to hang out with my Gal Pals is always welcome, I celebrated Galentine's Day a little early, this weekend, with my best writing pal Abby Green. This involved spending an afternoon watching Ireland slaughter Italy in the Rugby Six Nations, then a wonderful meal at a gastro pub in Islington then sharing a sofa (and a bottle of vino) at the Screen on the Green (my local deluxe cinema) for a screening of Fifty Shades Darker - the ultimate guilty pleasure for gal pals the world over IMHO.

50 Shades of Friendship!
Of course, if you have gender-neutral friendships (because sorry Harry, but girls and guys can be friends without sex getting in the way, sometimes!) I'm sure Leslie wouldn't mind if you celebrated those friendships with Palentine's Day... My new variation on Galentine's Day...

Ah, the possibilities are endless... Because the truth is that celebrating love - in all its many forms - should be inclusive and diverse and should never go out of fashion. And actually, you don't need to have a day for it, or even a name for it... Just go for it. Every day.

PS: And if you want to buy my newly revamped Valentine's novella - Sleepless in London - while you're at it, I wouldn't mind a bit!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Being a Romance Writing Tutor: A Q&A

If you don't already know this, I tutor on online writing course called An Introduction to Writing Hot Romance with the lovely peeps at The Professional Writing Academy... They did a Q&A with me about the first course we ran last year which I'm posting here too, because I'm clever like that!!

BTW the next course opens on 20th February if you're interested.


Tutor Q&A: Heidi Rice

The first iteration of our Introduction to Writing Hot Romance course has just finished with great success. We thought we’d see what our tutor, romance author Heidi Rice, had to say about our unique approach to teaching people how to write.

Q - Hi Heidi. We love your work on the Introduction to Writing Hot Romance course, but what do you enjoy most about teaching writing with the Professional Writing Academy?

Heidi Rice - I love the time and flexibility it gives me to really nurture writers over a 7+ week long time frame. When putting the materials together for the course it allowed me to look in-depth at the different craft aspects of romance writing, and it amazed me the different skills and experiences the writers on the course brought to these disciplines.

Q - How do you find the online course differs from teaching or running workshops face to face?

HR - Honestly, I love the flexibility it gives course participants to develop their writing on their own timetable. When giving workshops face-to-face it's also hard to make contact with each individual writer to the extent I can do in this format. Similarly, when doing face-to-face workshops myself, before I became a published author, I always felt under pressure to ‘perform’ when given writing assignments. To be spontaneously brilliant is a lot of pressure, and not how the process of writing works in reality for most authors (and certainly not for me). It can take hours, days to write and then edit any piece. Sometimes the writing flows, but often it doesn’t.

Also, all the materials are accessible and available throughout the course, so you’re not having to jot down notes and listen intently - it’s all there to access and refer to at your leisure when you have the headspace to do so - while at the same time the course gives you deadlines so you can’t prevaricate or procrastinate too much (which all writers tend to do given half a chance, me included!). Sometimes, too, the anonymity of online participation can give writers more confidence about displaying their work. It’s tough putting your writing out there for others to read, especially if you’ve never done it before, and being able to have that little degree of separation can be really empowering. Not everyone is an extrovert after all, and this can be particularly true of writers!

Q - Is there anything in particular that makes Professional Writing Academy so special?

HR - I think the way in which the Professional Writing Academy’s online classroom works is one of its greatest strengths. As the tutor, I love the opportunities it gives me to give each individual writer informed feedback on their writing exercise and also look at their overall development during the course. Perhaps even more important, though, are the opportunities it gives for the writers to support and encourage each other as they learn to critique each other's work.

Writing is an extremely solitary profession in practice. The support I get from other writers in my genre whom I interact with online is invaluable to me and something that this course actively encourages, so that when writers finish the course they have the potential to continue to use and benefit from those friendships going forward.

Q - Do you think group teaching is more successful than other approaches?

HR - Definitely. Learning to edit your own work is an essential part of writing, and the very best way to do that is to first learn how to read a piece of writing like an author. Then, it’s important to learn how to improve the qualities in that writing that you believe don’t work - while also acknowledging and supporting those aspects which do. Those are all skills that critiquing the writing of your peers teaches you.

Similarly, having your work critiqued by your fellow writers gives you an invaluable insight into how an informed reader views your writing. Seeing how other writers approach the same exercise also broadens your own perspective. You may think ‘wow, I wish I’d done that’, or ‘that’s an interesting approach’, or even ‘that doesn’t work for me’, but as soon as you read that piece - because you’ve had to do the same thing yourself - you’ll instinctively be looking at what they’ve written through the eyes of a writer as well as a reader.

The beauty of the group approach, therefore, is that it means you’re not just learning from your tutor. You’re also learning from every single other writer on your course. That’s a lot of extra bang for your buck (to put it bluntly!).

Q - Do your students ever struggle with peer critiquing?

HR - Writers often lack confidence in their work, especially if they’re new writers who have never put their work out there before. They may be apprehensive about having their work criticised, or conversely criticising the work of others. I always say that it’s okay to be nervous, but to always remember the online classroom is a universally supportive and inclusive environment. The other writers want to improve their writing too, and they know exactly what you’re going through because they’re right there with you.

By the end of the course I assure them that they’ll not only have learned so much from the experience of peer critiquing, but they’ll actually be really excited about getting feedback on their work.

Q - Have any students given you feedback about your work on the course?

HR - Yes, and it was great! Learning to write - in whatever genre - is hard, and it’s a journey that never ends, so I was really pleased that the feedback I got from students on my first Introduction to Writing Hot Romance course was so positive about continuing on their own individual journeys as writers. As a tutor that’s my end goal - not just to inform writers about the skills required to become a romance author, but also to enthuse and excite them about their own potential as writers.

Q - Heidi, it’s been great seeing a tutor’s perspective of teaching on the course, and I hope you’ll have just as much fun in the future. Thanks!

HR - It’s always a pleasure! Thank you.


Heidi Rice is a USA Today bestselling author of 24 romantic novels, novellas and short stories. She has sold over 2 million copies of her books worldwide, had her stories translated into 23 languages and has finaled three times in the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA awards which recognise excellence in romance writing. Her first women’s fiction novel, So Now You’re Back, was published in February 2016 by Harlequin Mira UK and described by one Amazon reviewer as ‘a sheer delight’.
Visit Heidi’s website, and follow her on Twitter at @HeidiRomRice

Are you a fan of romantic fiction? Would you like to try writing fresh, modern romance, or learn how to inject some sizzle and spice into your stories? Introduction to Writing Hot Romance is a new, seven-week online course that will teach you the the secrets of writing bestselling romance, help you develop ideas, create effective plots and compelling characters, and begin to critique your work.

Course opens 20 February, 2017, applications are open now.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

NaNo-What Now?? And Book Giveaway News

Box o' Presents!
Writing is always super hard for me... That was until this month. After finishing my second longer book and sending it off to my editor I had only a month to write my next Presents. I had already done six chapters of this book... So I wasn't too panicky.. Yet.  I signed up for NaNoWriMo to help get me motivated. Only thing was, the day before it was due to start I read those first six chapters... And realised I had a problem, the external plot was way too complicated, my hero was a jerk and my heroine was a psychopath!!

I had two choices:

1) Try moulding that lump of crap into something more appealing.

2) Start from scratch.

But I only had a month. And it usually takes me three months to write a book anyway. But then a strange and wonderful thing happened. On the first of November, I just opened a new document and started again. Because I suddenly had a whole new vision for this book. The basics of the external plot were similar, but my heroine was a totally different person. And I soon realised so was my hero, not as ruthless, but just as alpha. And suddenly the words started to flow... And flow... And flow.

And now it's Day 13 of NaNoWriMo and I've written 36k words... And I'm still going folks. And I am LOVING this book. Which means either I'm completely delusional. Or it's actually as good as I think it is.

Here's a sneak peek of my Pinterest board to give you an idea of what it's about.

So now I know. Writing is always hard for me, except on the very rare occasions when it's not – and I turn into Joan Wilder at the beginning of Romancing the Stone. And seriously there is nothing more uplifting. This is good news for me, because I needed something to lift me up right now. And locking myself in my study and ignoring the news and just writing about love and romance and two people who desperately need each other but haven't figured it out yet – and then throwing in a marriage of convenience and a touch of pregnesia to spice things up a bit – is TOTALLY the answer.

In other news, my box of books arrived from Harlequin for my first Classic Presents: Vows They Can't Escape which is out in Jan 2017 in the US and Feb 2017 in the UK... I'm doing a Goodreads giveaway, but will also be doing a couple of giveaways to people signed up to my newsletter list. I'll be arranging that as soon as I finish this book... So if you're not signed up already and you want a chance to win, you can find the sign up form on my Facebook Author Page or my website or from the form on the sidebar.

Here's the giveaway which should be live soon... ish!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Vows They Can't Escape by Heidi Rice

Vows They Can't Escape

by Heidi Rice

Giveaway ends November 30, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Losing My Podcast Virginity

Me, Abby & Chantelle Shaw
So two fortuitous things happened recently:

Firstly, I was asked by the lovely peeps at the Professional Writing Academy if I would be interested in doing a podcast to help promo my new online writing course with them An Introduction to Writing Hot Romance - the course launches on October 4th so if you want to sign up and treat yourself to 7 weeks of intensive but I hope completely fabulous sessions on romance writing you still have time.

The other thing that happened was I went to an author lunch in Central London (an annual event which is always a top date in my writing calendar) with some of my favorite romance authors – which of course made me think, if I'm gonna lose my podcast virginity, I'm going to rope them in too!!

First thing to figure out was how to work my iPhone's Voice Memo app. Yup, this took a while, because it turns out my smart phone is a lot smarter than I am... But once Abby Green and I had done numerous tests, and then actually managed to find the recordings on the phone without accidentally deleting them (not as easy as it sounds), I was ready to roll.

Showing off my latest cover at the party
Next up was cornering some of my mates. First up was of course Abby, who had foolishly helped me with the app and was therefore a sitting duck for my first soundbite.

The question was a simple one, though, for someone who writes searingly sexy romances: Why do you love writing hot romance?

Then I turned to Fiona Harper - I asked her why she loved writing romance, as her books are less hot but still wonderfully fresh, funny, heartwarming romance novels for HQ.

My fellow Fairy Tales of New York author Lucy King, who had made the mistake of camping out with us after the lunch and who writes wonderfully sexy, sassy feel-good romances got hooked in next...

After the author lunch each year Mills and Boon invite all their current authors to a glamorous drinks party in the News Building - right next to the Shard with wonderful views over London – and there I managed to waylay the legendary Sharon Kendrick – author of a staggering 102 books for M&B all of them scorchingly hot and deeply emotional reads – for a quick chat.

The fabulous Ms Kendrick
The next day I made a trip to Sheffield to talk on a panel with Sue Stephens (darn it, I should have whipped out my phone out and interviewed her too!) and M&B editor Flo Nicholl about why Mills and Boon books are so cool hosted by academic Val Derbyshire during the University's Festival of the Mind event.

So it wasn't until Sunday that I had the delight of figuring out how to use Garageband to edit the sound recordings and add my own thoughts (and yes, there was sarcasm in that statement!). After a long day spent fumbling my way through the highly intuitive (but not that intuitive to me) application, I had my podcast. And I have to say, I am mighty pleased with the eventual result. The people at PWA prettied it up with some photos and stuck it on YouTube, so I need to say a big thanks to them, and to my mates, who each had insightful and interesting reasons as to why they love writing romance (hot or not).

I'd love to know what you think? So here it is...

Now I am no longer a podcast virgin, I may be doing more podcasts - I love to talk about romance, so why not share the joy, right? In fact, the PWA may have created a monster...

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

To Be Or Not to Be Feminist Literature… A Mills and Boon Author’s Perspective.

So summer is the silly season in the UK press calendar… And with that in mind there’s been a lot of noise in the last week or so, mostly from The Guardian, triggered by Val Derbyshire, a professor from Sheffield University, who is leading two events at the university’s Festival of the Mind espousing her theory that Mills and Boon books are FEMINIST LITERATURE!! 

Which to those who don’t read Mills and Boon books, seems like an outlandish claim, because the perceived wisdom goes something like this: Mills and Boon? Feminist Literature? WTH? Aren’t they bodice rippers? Full of arsehole heroes? Mealy mouthed heroines? Purple prose? ‘Forced seduction’ (otherwise known as rape)? And how can they possibly have any literary weight anyway if they’re written by computers? To a formula? By men writing under pseudonyms who are trying to earn a few bob by writing trash? 

Those of us who love reading M&B books can easily hit back at those commonly held myths. But I’ve done that already, and I’m not here to do it again, because it’s boring. But after reading Derbyshire’s argument and Julie Bindel’s strident rebuttal I wanted to stick my oar into this particular debate because: I’ve actually written a few M&B books in my time as a romance novelist and no one has ever accused me of being mealy mouthed (unlike all my M&B heroines, obviously).

Now, to be fair, I haven’t actually heard Derbyshire’s lecture but from the selective quotes carried in The Guardian article about her – during what was clearly a slow news week – it seems her thesis makes a couple of key assertions based on her extensive reading of M&B books over the years: that they deal with difficult subjects (such as rape) in a female-centric and often empowering way and that they are predominately written by women for women. Excellent, we’re off to a good start. She actually reads M&B books… And The Guardian reported on that original story with remarkable magnanimity. 

Over to vocal M&B hater, Julie Bindel, to slag off Derbyshire’s theory and M&B books as trash that supports the patriarchy and condones rape based on her possibly not-quite-as-wide-reading of the texts involved… Personally I didn’t think the two out of context lines quoted from a sex scene in a 2010 book depicted rape (unless the hero has a magical mind-reading penis). Bindel would disagree. But what I can say categorically is I don’t know a single M&B author/or editor working today who would want to write or publish a scene in which the hero is having sex with the heroine knowing she does not consent.

Bindel also goes on to make a derogatory comment about “fun feminists” (because we can call ourselves feminists, but some of us are more feminist than others, apparently) and some patronising comments supporting the right of women to read whatever trash they like as long as they don’t pretend it’s feminist. But fair play to her, at least she isn’t wheeling out that old anti-women sentiment that women who read romance don’t actually know it’s fiction or should be chastised for reading whatever the heck they want.

But here’s the thing, as an author I’d have to say I’m perplexed by both the It’s Feminist-It’s Not Feminist arguments for two reasons:

Firstly, as with any other fiction writer, Mills and Boon authors bring their own life experiences, their own sensibilities and their own unique voice to the stories they write. So when Val Derbyshire says the stories they write are all feminist or Julie Bindel says they’re all not feminist, they are both falling into a common misconception that says - unlike any other publisher in the market today - every book Mills and Boon publish can be lumped together and judged accordingly.

That said, it is true that M&B series books and specifically their best-selling line Modern (or Harlequin Presents in the US) which I believe are the books most people are thinking of when they refer to an M&B book (and certainly the ones always pictured in these articles) – sorry to all those authors that write for M&B’s many other lines, you don’t exist – do have certain key similarities because of M&B’s guidelines for each of their series lines… In the case of Modern: the heroes are alpha (aka 'overbearing macho men' in Bindel land), they’re irresistibly sexy, the settings are glamorous, jet-setting and aspirational. In short, these books are high-octane escapist romantic fantasy in a handy page-turning chunk… Rather inconveniently, though, even Modern books have individual authors with individual voices who create their own individual characters and conflicts for each story… Or we’d all be writing the same book. And it would be a whole lot easier! (yeah, sorry, that computer programme thingy is a myth too). Now, maybe people who don’t want to read books that hold a guaranteed promise within the narrative (which is what those M&B guidelines are there to deliver) or desire the comfort of a  guaranteed positive outcome (which is the promise of a romance novel in general) think these books are all the same. But people who do read romance, know and see the difference very clearly… It’s all in the eye of the beholder peeps…

But here’s the other thing that perplexes me about the Is It Or Is It Not Feminist argument… I think it completely fails to understand the creative process of writing. And yeah, I know - having made the fatal error of bothering to read The Guardian comments section on Bindel’s piece (sheesh, why didn’t someone stop me falling down that black hole for an hour?!)  – I’m well aware a lot of people think there is nothing remotely creative or challenging about writing an M&B novel. But as someone who has actually done it a few times and spent sleepless nights agonising about her hero’s conflict or re-writing an opening scene 50 times to get it right, just bear with me here…

I consider myself a feminist and not one of those trashy “fun feminists” either ( just ask my sons, who have to handle my impassioned rants about everything from women’s reproductive rights to The Bechtel Test on a regular basis). Even so, I’m sure Julie would make mincemeat of some of my books. A good example would be Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposition (ignore the daft title, it’s what’s called a marketing tool). 

This was my fourth book for M&B and opens with the hero striding into the heroine’s office in Camden and virtually kidnapping her in front of all her workmates so he can make her take a pregnancy test. I’m holding up my hand here to say that my hero Luke’s behaviour in that opening scene is not exactly enlightened. I might even be forced to admit my hero behaves like a prize jerk (even if he’s an extremely hot prize jerk). And my heroine Louisa (being a feminist like me and not a remotely fun feminist at this point in the book) is justifiably furious. And frankly she’s not particularly mollified when she discovers to her horror that she actually is pregnant and this hot overbearing prize jerk is the father!! 

But before we get all up ourselves freaking out about how patriarchal and prize jerky my hero is in that scene, let me explain how I came up with that opening sequence. It all started when I was looking with my two sons at their ultrasound pictures and telling them what an incredibly emotional moment it had been for me and their dad when those pictures were taken… And an intriguing question popped into my head… What would happen if you were sharing that intensely emotional ultrasound moment with a guy you couldn’t stand? Now obviously, I knew that guy was going to be the hero, and these two were going to end up together despite their differences in that scene because I write romance novels and romance novels are about relationships with a positive outcome (DUH). And because I like to write hot romance novels I also knew that while these two did not like each other they would still be extremely sexually attracted to one another (remember, he’s an exceptionally hot prize jerk, in my heroine’s defense)… But everything else was in the balance… How could these two ever work out their differences, make this relationship work after a start like that? And as a writer all I could think was… I absolutely LOVE IT. Because the harder their journey the more exciting, challenging, emotionally intense it will be for me and my readers. That’s what I’m looking for…  A great opening conflict. 

Of course, once I’d figured out that initial opening sequence of events, I had loads of questions to answer. Why was the heroine clueless about her own pregnancy? Was she in denial for some reason? And why was the hero so determined to find out if she was or was not pregnant? Why had he behaved like a domineering jerk? Did he have strong enough motivations for doing what he did? Did those motivations ultimately excuse his behaviour?… I thought so… Others didn’t… But it was still a great start to a romance novel (if I say so myself). Yes, some readers might say that opening is contrived, over the top, melodramatic. Those readers won’t read on and that’s their choice. Those readers also probably don’t read Mills and Boon Modern books. But the readers who find that conflict delicious, compelling, exciting, those readers who want to know what’s going to happen to these two people and the tiny life that now connects them, will read on, hopefully because I’ve set those characters up well enough to make their flaws and weaknesses (particularly my hero’s in that scene) as compelling as their strengths… 

What I was not thinking throughout that whole creative process or indeed while I was writing the rest of the book and trying to figure out how these two were going to deal with all the emotional baggage I’d dumped on them while still having lots of hot sexy times in a 50k word count was: is this feminist or is it reinforcing the patriarchy?

Were readers thinking that… ? Hmm.

I got some pretty furious reviews on Goodreads for that book, from women who were really pissed off about the hero’s behaviour, and the heroine’s. They didn’t think the hero’s motivations were good enough for him to be such a prize jerk at the beginning of the book. They also thought my heroine was TSTL because no smart woman in the history of the world ever got to three months gestation WITHOUT realising they were pregnant, apparently. Fair enough. Obviously for them I had not done my job well enough. But that’s their opinion. Other readers loved it. But do I think those differing opinions were because those readers were or were not feminists? Actually no, I think primarily it was because they either were or were not convinced by my characters’ behaviour. 

Christian Grey is a good example of a similarly Marmite hero. Not many people would argue that he is a feminist hero, or indeed that FSOG is a feminist book (although I would argue that Ana Steele is the one with the real power in that relationship, but that’s a conversation for another blog). But do any of us actually believe that there weren’t a lot of feminists reading that book and enjoying it (raises hand in the air), just like there were other women who probably wouldn’t consider themselves feminists who hated it and could not connect with the characters in any way? Of course, Julie Bindel would probably tell us that any feminist who says she likes FSOG must be one of those trashy “fun feminists”, but then I’d just have to sic Tina Fey on her who says ‘Girl-on-girl sabotage is the worst kind of female behaviour, right behind saying ‘like’ all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster”. ie: stop right there trying to out-feminist me, Julie! 

But here’s my point as an author - who never left any of her babies in a dumpster - even if she sometimes wanted to. (Yeah, sad to say, that initial intensely emotional moment wore off occasionally!)…

Should Mills and Boon authors, or any romance author, or indeed any author at all have to make their characters do one thing or another based on a set of principals, or beliefs, even if they are their own principals and beliefs? Or indeed can they? Doesn’t that ultimately fly in the face of an author’s creativity, their ability to create their own unique multi-layered characters within a fictional universe? And why should female writers, or romance writers, or indeed Mills and Boon authors be held to a different standard than everyone else? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the books aren’t feminist, or that they are. Or even that I don’t strive to push what I consider to be my own personal feminist agenda in my own books… Because yes, all my heroines and I would cheer Maya Angelou when she said: ‘I’m a feminist. I’ve been a woman for a long time now, I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.’

But my point is that Mills and Boon books, like all romance novels (even the tiny percentage written by men!) and any other type of fiction, are written by authors who have a creative vision. And whether you consider their work to have value or not, Mills and Boon authors like all other authors, have one primary purpose when they write a story – not to make it feminist or non-feminist – but to create something they themselves would want to read (yup, that thing about M&B authors being hacks happily writing stuff they know is trash for money… complete bollox, as well)… 

Of course, the hope is that a few other people will want to read it too - and in my case those people may be Val Derbyshire and probably won’t be Julie Bindel (unless she’s writing an article about what patriarchal tripe I write) - but as Ian McEwan put it in The Guardian magazine (oh, the irony!): ‘I don’t care about sales. The dopamine moment is finishing the novels.’ 

To be fair, Mills and Boon authors generally write a lot of novels, so you could totally accuse us of being dopamine junkies. But don’t get us started on whether or not our books are feminist… Or you’re liable to get yourself a 2000+ word blog on the subject.