Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing romance-themed author event at my local library, where they featured not one, not two, but SIX of Australia’s best-selling romance authors.
Anyone who follows me on social media, would have seen how excited I was for this event as not only was the library showcasing some of the amazing local authors we have – Jaye Ford/Jannette Paul (Amber In Alice), Michelle Douglas (Sarah and The Sheikh’s Baby), Annie West (His Majesty’s Temporary Bride) and Kaz Delaney (The Reluctant Jillaroo) – but joining them were rural romance superstars Karly Lane (Six Ways To Sunday) and Fiona McArthur (The Baby Doctor). To say I fangirled over these authors and the event as a whole, would be a sad understatement indeed.
My fangirling (and the fool I made of myself) over Karly Lane aside, the library hosted a truly amazing and unique event with these six authors. They split the authors into two even panels and they focused on each author’s individual style, message and romance perspective. Both panels took an in-depth look into what draws readers to romance books and the genre’s statistics, the misrepresentation of romance in the media and by the public, the various categories of romance and the personalities it features and how the Australian voice has captured and showcased a unique (and exotic) view worldwide. It was really refreshing to get such a wide, but in-depth, look into the world of romance and to see the authors themselves bust some of societies biggest misconceptions and myths was both a laugh and mind-blowing alarming at the same time.
The first panel of the day was hosted by Kaz Delaney and featured two hybrid Harlequin Mills & Boon authors Annie West and Michelle Douglas. All three of these ladies spoke passionately about romance and the need to stand up loud and proud for a genre that is often misunderstood and misrepresented in mainstream media and society. They rebuked many of the myths surrounding romance writers (and writers in general) and illustrated the power that the romance genre has to not only uplift society and women’s roles in it, but also the academia surrounding it and some mind-boggling stats about romance writing.
For example, one-fifth of the book sales worldwide are romance books, and it’s the second highest selling genre behind thrillers. Michelle Douglas, a PhD student at the University of Newcastle and a multi-published Harlequin Mills & Boon author, came armed with a truckload of astounding statistics – Harlequin sell on average THREE books PER SECOND worldwide! And yet it’s looked down on and degraded because it’s simply ‘romance’. 84% of romance readers in America are women, meaning a whopping 16% of readers are men! (There goes the myth that only women read romance!). What’s more, the average age bracket of readers is women aged 30 – 44 years of age, but there are significant outliers on each side of this bracket suggesting that readers of all ages not only connect but enjoy romance books regularly.
Another thing I loved about this panel was the way they looked at what it was exactly that drew so many people into romance books in the first place. Michelle Douglas argued that it is was because romance ‘was driven by emotions and it feeds the need to be loved, not only romantically, but through one’s family and friends as well’. Annie West added to this, throwing her support to the ‘innate need to belong, to have that [one] person to care for you’ and that it was all about the ’emotional journey’. Lastly, all three authors agreed wholeheartedly that a big part of the romance genre’s success and timelessness was due to the way it constantly evolved with the times, and simply because it was more often than not, a “conversation between women, about women in a world that was ideally set up for men.’
After a short morning tea break, the second panel took centre stage. This panel was led by Jannette Paul (aka Jaye Ford) as she spoke with Karly Lane and Fiona McArthur on their books, writing habits and what it was about small towns/rural settings and the Australian romances that both appealed to readers here in Australia and all around the world.
I haven’t heard Karly Lane or Fiona McArthur speak before at the author event, and I was fascinated by how in-depth the three authors looked at their work, the genre and the Australian market and it’s influence around the world.
While the Australian market might not be as mighty as that of its American counterpart, one thing stands out strongly with its romance novels, and that’s the distinct voice and setting that has captured hearts all around the world. While the setting can be changed, all three authors argued that it’s the heart and soul of the everyday heroes and the community that make these books what they are. Heroes, and heroic gestures, I should add that Karly Lane argued were not necessary grand, sweeping gestures and reminded us that “little things can still be heroic’.
When asked if they actively chose to set their books in Australia, rather than say America for the much bigger American market, Fiona McArthur admitted she was “happy to write about Australia for Australian readers’ as the country has “so much to offer and such a plethora to write about”. When it came to choosing her Australian heroes, the choice was obvious due to the “iconic Australian [personalities that one meets in small towns] who stick with you and [are easy to] relate to.”
Karly Lane, on the other hand, has dabbled in various settings having self-published a variety of sci-fi/fantasy writing and she kind of “fell into writing Australian books by accident” after a failed attempt at writing for Mills & Boon early in her career. Karly Lane argued that ‘rural Australia needs it’s own voice sometimes, and it’s good to the get [their issues] out there … to showcase some of the problems” and educate people from the cities about just how different living in small communities can be sometimes. A point thatFiona McArthur wholeheartedly agreed with, and whose work does just that showcasing the limitations on the medical facilities and the sometimes unexpected and harsh realities of rural life.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning spent listening to all six authors and it was really refreshing and unique to be able to listen to authors from all walks of life talk about what their writing has in common and what sets them apart not only within the genre but within Australia as well.
I want to thank all six authors and the library for organising this event and making it so much fun.
Lastly, I wish to encourage all of you who attend library talks to fill out the feedback forms and suggest the authors you would personally love to meet. I’ve been filling out mine steadily for the past five years or so and consistently requesting Karly Lane and the library made it happen! So request who you want to meet and you never know what might happen!