Thursday, September 27, 2007

Guilty Pleasures?

Well, I listened to it . . . and I did as I promised. I gave the Radio 4 Guilty Pleasures 100 years of Mills & Boon the courtesy of listening with an open mind. I didn't skim it or read the opinions of anyone else on it it.

I listened - and I ended up wondering just why they bothered. It didn't say anything new - in fact it didn't really say anything. It was a bit of a rehash of most of what has gone before. And what's that saying about the 'parson's egg' - that it was good in parts?

It gave some interviews with editors Tessa Shapcott, Joanne Carr and Meg Sleightholme who came across as the intelligent and modern women they are. It had interviews with Sharon Kendrick and Roger (Gill) Sanderson as authors. And while I suppose that Roger as the much trumpeted 'M&B's only male author' is interesting for that point, I would have thought that an author like Penny Jordan or Carole Mortimer who have both been writing for year s and years and have over 300 novels between them - and who have survived many changes in the times during which they have been writing would have been a more enlightening and in depth approach.

But then, well 'in depth' was not what this programme was aiming for - how could they when they were dealing with 100 years in barely 30 minutes? So we had two minutes on the history of M&B , 2 minutes on Alan Boon, two minutes on . . .well you get the idea.

Oh yes, and more than two minutes on the regulation academics and 'good' writers who were wheeled out to tell the world that we write formulaic clichéd stories that are only about heroines 'waiting' for man to come along and sweep them off their feet - a man who, by the way doesn't notice them until they buy a nice dress and appear looking attractive, so that then he sweeps in and carries her off in his strong manly arms!

Nothing else happens apparently - no bankruptcies, no miscarriages, no infertility, no fears of unfaithfulness, no hunts for long lost sisters, no heroines finding the child they gave up for adoption . . . I could go on but it's so boring, so predictable - if you want direct quotes then head over to Trish Wylie's blog. because
a. I have a book to write - one of those clichéd formulaic ones where the heroine needs to buy a new dress
b. These words are so condescending, so stupid and so appallingly insulting to any women who want to read a romance that they're not worth repeating twice and so giving more emphasis to.
c. To be honest, Trish has done such a good job in transcribing the actual idiotic or outrageously condescending and snobbish quotes that I feel she desrves the credit for struggling through them

Other opinions? Well, I was left wondering how old the comedian presenter was. I suspect she was trying to get a rise out of the editors by (oooh giggle giggle ) talking about the "twitching in her hero's pants " as he looked at the heroine and taking literally the 'no deformity' rule ("you can;t have a heoine with one leg . . ." - whaaat?!) by coming up with a plot where the heroine had plastic surgery that went terribly wrong - and your point is? One of the best bits was the editor's incisive comment on her opening having no dialogue etc when I'm sure she was supposed to recoil and twitter faintly 'Oh no - no deformity!!'

Ah yes, the deformity problem - we come back to Mr J McAleer and his history of M&B again. History - a word that means dealing with the past. Past.

So what was the point of quoting Violet Winspear speaking in the 1960s - or the guide to writing for Mills & Boon for the same period? Their opinions were interesting as historical facts, no more. Violet Winspear has been dead for nearly 20 years. Her words are totally irrelevant to the books written today and the women reading them - though interestingly enough, current bestselling author Sandra Marton is talking about her over on the Pink Heart Society blog today.

A comparison of the type of book VW wrote with the ones being written today - or a comparison of the How To Guide with - say - the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance would have been more interesting - and might have said so much more about the way that the company and the books have progressed since 1960. But that's where this programme really fell down - they didn't discuss or compare anything - just gave snippets of things that were interesting trivia and were analysed or debated in any real way. It was the sort of approach that I might have expected from a schoolgirl Media Studies essay rather than any sort of in depth look at a cultural phenomenon that is 100 years old next year.

Like I said, same old, same old.

What astonishes me though is the capacity for sneering, pulling to pieces and downright condescending approach to their fellow women some females have. If the 'academics' on this programme really are so arrogant and mean minded and downright condescending towards the members of their own sex as they sounded then give me a good old-fashioned bit of gender prejudice from a man any day. There's that well known saying about 'friends like that. . . ' And here's for the woman who rousingly refuted the 'only for saddoes' comment with the fact that women totally understand that the books are fiction and not a guidebook for life.

I expect - and hope - that there will be other comments on other blogs about this programme. They'll be worth reading. Sadly many people won't read our replies - and even more sadly there will be plenty who will take this shallow - and in some places hopelessly outdated - skim over the subject as gospel. As I said - same old, same old.

So now I'm going back to write one of my clichéd books - no, sorry, it won't be so clichéd when it comes out as apparently they take the clichés out but you can see the holes where they were removed. Funny that as every time I get my proofs every single word I wrote is in the manuscript. And I'm proud of all of them. I'm proud of the fact that I write books that so many women read with enjoyment no matter where they live or how old they are or whatever their educational backgrounds. In some places literary snobbery is alive and well - but in others there are those 50 million readers - plus about 2000 authors - who are going to go right ahead and ignore it. And continue writing and reading for pleasure.

If you haven't heard Guilty Pleasures and wanted to listen to it, you can find it on the Listen Again page on the BBC Radio 4 website.


Anne McAllister said...

Well, I can see I didn't miss anything. And nice as Trish was to work so hard at transcribing, I'll give it a miss. After all, the academics generally give our books a miss and comment anyway.

May I just say that Nancy Cook, an English professor at the University of Montana has an essay coming out next year in a book about writing about Montana, where she deals with romances that take place in Montana, and she is a thorough and committed researcher and she has done her homework and she gives credit where credit is due. And I, for one, appreciate it. She also "gets it." Wish more did.

Get back to your book, Kate. They aren't worth worrying about. Or, you'll need India Grey to pass on her blood pressure pills!

India said...

Well said Kate, very well said.

I just wish it hadn't needed saying!

(Think of a happy place, think of a happy place....)

Natasha said...

I thought Mary Evans, academic feminist, came across as rude. How dare she criticise the reading preferences of so many women? I suppose that was the big disappointment of the programme for me - I doubt a casual listener would realise quite how daft her comments were unless they'd read some of the current releases.

But, then, what do I know????? I must go search out that missing neuron which will make it all clear to me.

Oh and couldn't resist having a look for Celia Brayford's books in Bedfordshire libraries. It might interest her to know more of my books are 'out'! :)

Donna Alward said...

I have to go have a listen, but I'll say this: I took courses at uni where I had to grit my teeth at some of the feminist attitudes. And I think part of the problem is that today we have a different type of feminism. In fact, I may have to blog. LOL

I loved this part, Kate: " If the 'academics' on this programme really are so arrogant and mean minded and downright condescending towards the members of their own sex as they sounded then giving me a good old-fashioned bit of gender prejudice from a man any day."

It burns my bottom when some people feel they speak for all of us because we're obviously too stupid to do so for ourselves.

India...I think my blood pressure's going up....

Trish said...

It was just plain old IRRITATING wasn't it???? Frankly I think the reason so much of it was interesting to me was 'cos I didn't know some of the history. But the academic and the author who thought the books were for people who can *barely read* really were just TWITS. They obviously thought they were being *clever*. Unfortunately - as Natasha says - unless you're a reader who enjoys the genre and understands it then you're just gonna think they're the voice of educated reason. Whereas to those of us who read and write them they just came across as elitist twits.

Proof of the pudding is in the sales and the popularity... right??? ;)

Sandra Schwab said...

Over at Teach Me Tonight Laura Vivanco wrote a post about this programme, too. It seems that Brayfield also doesn't like Jane Austen because of the narrow scope of her books -- no war, no wickedness, no corruption, no poverty --, which makes you wonder whether it's Brayfield "who can just about read."

From the snippets Laura quoted it appears that much of what these academics and mainstream writers said falls into the category of "laugh out aloud." And while they might have skimmed through Radway or Modleski in preparation for this programme, it's pretty clear they've never read a romance novel.


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