Introduced as having transformed from “corporate bitch to romance queen”, writer Jennifer St George spoke at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival about the conventions, expectations, and processes of being a romance novelist.
Writing to the conventions of the romance genre can be difficult, explained St George. Every story has the same “happily ever after ending”. The art is in creating enthralling and greatly nuanced relationships, tensions, and conflicts between characters.
Amy Andrews has written forty romance novels, sold over 1.6 billion books, and claims the genre is all about the “build up, not the sex”. It’s all about the longing, yearning, burning, and seduction. The push-and-pull. The will-they-won’t-they.
One thing the two authors have in common – observed the session chair, local comedian Mandy Nolan – is that they both have true love.
According to Andrews, ninety percent of romance readership is female. Once, her husband read a sex scene she had written once, to which he said: “Oh my god, do you want us to do it like this?”
On the other hand, St George’s husband reads every word she writes. “I can tell when I’ve written a good sex scene,” she said.
To a substantial audience, which included (in total) three men – one of which was St George’s husband – the writers spoke about escapism desire.
Both authors agree that readers want “hard chested, kick-ass heroes,” but are aware of writing problematic archetypes and stereotypes.
St George constructs powerful women with fabulous careers who stand-up for themselves. Her novels tackle and reflect real issues such as suicide and domestic violence.
But, is there a place for a chubby confident heroine within the genre? asked Nolan.
Andrews’ latest heroine Sam, in Risky Business, is an externally confident size fourteen young lady, who internally struggles with body image issues.
“Despite self-loathing being a women’s default setting,” said Nolan. “I still want to see a really fat, really confident heroine!”
Nolan wants to see the genre cater to reader demographics and aging populations. Could a heated romance novel, with a handsome hero and hot sex, be set in a nursing home?
“Yes!” said Andrews. “Perhaps, residents of nursing homes could be writing those stories.”
St George shared her favourite rom-com moment when, in film The Holiday, when Jude Law looks across the room and sees Camerian Diaz.
“Every woman just wants to be seen,” said Nolan.
“And wants the hero to only have eyes for her, and her only,” added St George.
Andrews and her sister are currently working on a “breast-cancer romance.” She is also writing a paranormal private-investigation romance fusion.
St George has recently had a contract for her fifth novel signed by Penguin.
Both Amy Andrews and Jennifer St George will be attending the Romance Writers of Australia Conference next week.
Stevi-Lee Alver studies creative writing at Southern Cross University.