Anne here. I recently drove up to Ballarat, a large former gold-mining city in regional Victoria, to take part in a library event — a panel discussing "The Anatomy of Romance" — my first live event in several years, thanks to CoVid.
It was a very chilly day — icy and wet — and I feared that nobody would want to venture out to hear a library discussion. But as the organizing librarian said, "Ballarat people are used to this kind of weather," and so it proved when more than fifty people showed up. At any rate I was very glad that at the last minute packing I'd tossed in my Irish ruana (the "sea-violet" wrap I was wearing.) It's soft and light and beautifully warm.
(I bought mine from this site last year and raved about it to the Wenches, and both Mary Jo and Christina ended up buying one — and both were very happy with theirs, too. And no, I'm not connected with the site at all)
Ballarat is a town that began in the 1850's gold rush that took place in Australia, and it's still showing signs of the amazing prosperity of that time in the form of wonderful buildings and intricate iron lace decorations. There are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and a large botanical garden well worth visiting, as well as several art galleries and museums.
There's also a "living museum" in the form of Sovereign Hill township — a recreated gold mining village that is a must-see if you venture up that way. I've been half a dozen times and there's still stuff to see. I didn't do any sight seeing this time, though, because I'm a cold-weather wimp and as I said, it was freezing and wet.
So, to the panel. The moderator, Darry Fraser writes Australian historicals with just a thread of romance, Tobias Madden, who'd grown up in Ballarat, was talking about his debut book, a gay YA (Young Adult) relationship story that's up for an award, and as you know, I write regency-era historical romance.
I won't include all the questions the moderator asked us, just some that I thought might be of interest. (Feel free to weigh in with your opinion on any of them in the comments stream.)
Who is reading romance in 2022? Has the readership changed? Did the pandemic cause an increase of readers coming to the genre?
My impression was that it probably had, particularly an increase of people getting e-books and audio books, and that print books probably hadn't done so well. But I had no evidence for my opinions. What do you think?
The “Bridgerton effect”- What effect has the success of the Julia Quinn series Shondaland Netflix adaptation had on the writers and readers of romance?
We also discussed the way filmed versions of novels almost invariably are different (and usually inferior) to the written version, primarily because film can only show the story through actions and dialogue, whereas with novels you can really get inside a character's head.
Diversity in romance Casting in screen adaptations, diversity in the voices of romance writers and their characters. The increase of LGBTIQA+ voices in the genre — the rise of queer YA romance, queer historical romance emerging.
Our discussion of filmed versions vs written merged into this question, as the original Julia Quinn books (now 20 years old) was not particularly diverse, but that the Shondaland casting was not only diverse, but also created a fantasy version of the Regency-era setting.
I wasn't able to add much to this discussion, as though I've had a few diverse characters (eg Egyptian and Spanish heroines) they mostly aren't. I've also had several gay characters (for instance Featherby and William), but they were minor characters, and since at the time it was a crime for men to be gay, it was all implicit.
My books are about the aristocracy of the English Regency era and they prided themselves on their exclusivity — and worked hard to exclude all kinds of people, not only because of race but also because of class, illegitimacy, "foreign-ness' and many other "reasons" that we don't find acceptable these days.
Tobias Madden, being a gay writer writing about a young gay character, told us about the many moving moments he'd experienced as young people (and older ones) came up to him at events and thanked him for "telling their story" and for making them feel "seen". It was lovely.
Writing beyond the trope– what is the role of the trope in romance fiction and is it still as important as it once was? Do readers select their books based on the trope? For writers what come first- the trope or the story/characters?
Both Tobias and I said that the characters come first, though sometimes they come to us with a trope-ish set up.
I admitted that I often bought books based on tropes, and that certain tropes invariably appealed to me — eg. Convenient marriages, mail order brides, but it was more the writer who made me buy a book.
Tobias said that in YA tropes were very important and young readers loved them. He talked about how he loved the "friends to lovers" trope, as that was his own experience, and he loathed the "enemies to lovers" one because he didn't really believe it — though he did enjoy "rivals to lovers." Darry said she didn't use tropes at all.
We had a lot of interesting questions from the audience, too. This is the audience ten minutes before we started. A hardy lot are Ballarat people.
And the library provided us (and the audience) with tea, coffee and the most delicious — and beautiful — cupcakes I'd ever eaten. Thank you Ballarat Library.
What about you — do you have any views you'd like to share in response to these questions? Do you think your reading has changed because of the pandemic? Or do you have any favorite or most disliked tropes?