Friday, April 15, 2011

Date With Kate - Guilty Pleasures?

I confess that life has battered me a bit lately. There has been illness, more illness, bereavement in my family. I’ve worried too much, held hands with those who were worrying , consoled others who have been really sad. I’ve lost a dear old cat, had another one - the Cat of Superior Breeding Sir Sidney - in the vet hospital to have the pain in his mouth investigated – more teeth out, more worry – more cost! I’ve spent more time than I care to consider in hospitals, waiting rooms, vet’ s waiting rooms. I’ve been on the phone more than I can remember, much of it anxiously waiting for results, for answers, for good news . . .

Good news. Yes, that would be something wouldn’t it - after floods in Queensland, earthquakes in New Zealand, THAT earthquake in Japan and tsunami that followed it. It got so that I didn’t dare to turn on the TV or the radio for fear of hearing something else that would add another shade of darkness to the black clouds that seemed to be hanging over the world – and give someone another big hammer to bang down on my head.

The last thing I wanted to do was to add to that atmosphere of gloom and doom that seemed to be around. I did mention the loss of my Mother in Law – it seemed wrong not to but at the same time I hesitated and thought about it several times before I wrote the blog. And the outpouring of sympathy warmed my heart. In the same way, the way that the romance writing community has come together to help at times of disaster has been a wonderful inspiration and something to lift the spirits as money was raised by auctions again and again to help those in distress.

At the same time, the news of and interest in the Royal Wedding seems to me to be a sign of the way that I’m not the only one feeling a bit bruised by all the grey feeling. Weddings mean hope and joy, they are times of celebration, chances to dress up, to decorate, to make things that bit brighter and more attractive than normal. We all need that.

Back in 2008 I first blogged about an ‘exciting project’ here on the PHS. That was when film maker Julie Moggan was planning “to make a warm, intelligent documentary that celebrates the Mills & Boon publishing phenomenon in the year of its centenary. I want the film to take us into the personal worlds of Mills & Boon novelists and avid readers, to uncover the secrets of Mills & Boon’s enduring success and find answers to the perennial question ‘What do women really want ?!?!’.”

Then on Tuesday the resulting documentary Guilty Pleasures, about the way the romances - in this case specifically Mills and Boon romances - have touched people’s lives.

This is how Guilty Pleasures is described:
Documentary revealing how the popular Mills & Boon series of romance novels has touched the lives of five people living on four continents. The programme highlights how the steamy fantasies evoked by the books have inspired two women to take control of their love-lives, and prompted one of the cover models to set out in search of his soul mate. Also introduced is author Gill Sanderson, who is revealed to be an elderly man who weaves the popular tales from a caravan in the Lake District

At first I was a rather worried by this documentary because the focus seemed to be on the cliché Mills & Boon reader – lonely, past the first flush of youth, looking to the books for what live and their partners weren’t giving them. Even the tanned, toned and focussed male cover model seemed to have a need at the core of his life that wasn’t being met. "You are loveable. You are loveable,” he kept chanting as if he really needed to convince himself. But if you stayed with it, watched till the end, there was actually an assertion of the real reason romances are so popular and so important. Underneath everything there were some real love stories – the woman who cared for her bipolar husband in his lowest, black moods. The Japanese husband who learned ballroom dancing to be able to share that experience with his wife – even practising his moves on the station platform as he waited for the train.
By the time the credits rolled, there were the happy endings. Hiroko won a ballroom dancing competition with the help of her husband. Shumita learned to love herself rather than her Porsche-driving, ex. Stephen found love with a woman who could even cope with his obsessive cleaning compulsion. Shirley found solace in helping Phil through his bipolar disorder.

If you turned on Guilty Pleasures to find out about Mills & Boon romances as the big business worldwide enterprise they are – or to learn how to write one and hopefully make a lot of money, then you would have been disappointed. If you had wanted an analysis of why romances are so successful and why they continue to be so after 100 years and all the changes in society, in women’s life and in ‘politically correct’ thinking that has changed so much in that time

Julie Moggan maker of 'Guilty Pleasures'
It made a valid point – that love takes isn’t always perfect and glamorous and stylish. That love isn’t just for the Princes and Princesses of this world – or the billionaires and the women who attract them. It isn’t just for the young and beautiful. But if it was claiming that romances give women a faulty idea of what love is and that the fantasy makes people unsatisfied with what they have then I think that was wrong. Because when I talk to people about reading romance then they tell me a different story. Readers read for that often used term the ‘emotional journey’ - to discover how the couples, the hero and the heroine, work through the problems that come between them – the emotional problems that all the money in the world can’t solve. The only currency that works with these difficulties is the strength of the human heart. Readers know the setting are fantasy. They know they aren’t going to bump into a billionaire, a sheikh or even Prince Harry on their next trip to the supermarket or the Post Office.

But what they do want is the belief that love will triumph even through the hard times. That there is hope of a better tomorrow – that, as Scarlett O’Hara so famously said ‘Tomorrow is another day’ and things have a real chance of being better then.

So how do the two topics of this blog come together? Well, as I dealt with the stress that life was throwing at me, in the brief times I had to switch off, I needed something to distract me. So I read. But I very definitely didn’t need anything that reminded me of the harshness of life, any ‘kitchen sink’ realism. I needed that assertion that there is good and love and the hope of happiness in the world – and romance reading provided that perfectly.

As Michelle Styles said in her blog post about Guilty Pleasures - that she hoped ‘the documentary does not mock the readers, the people who derive so much pleasure from the books. The books are escapist fantasy but they do provide a ray of sunshine in people's existence. They can help people through troubled times.’

So really in the end the major problem I have with this documentary is its title - if a ‘guilty pleasure’ is defined as: something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. The "guilt" involved is sometimes simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes - then reading romance is no guilty pleasure of mine. I’ve no guilt about it at all – and I don’t care who knows I read it or write it.

There’s no guilt at all - just a lot of relaxing pleasure in the reading. Which is why I write romance in the hope of providing just that relaxation for others.

Kate's latest release is The Proud Wife which spent 3 weeks as the #1 bestseller on the Mills and Boon web site in March and is now available as a Presents Extra in America.

Her latest book, part of the The Powerful and the Pure mini series -  The Return of The Stranger has just been scheduled for September 2011.

And one piece of news that she has  a LOT of pleasure  - and absolutely no guilt about announcing is that her  March 2010 title The Konstantos  Marriage Demand has just been awarded Best Presents Extra by Romantic Times Magazine.    What an honour  - thanks to the reviewers who awarded it.
You can get all Kate's news and read the latest updates over on her web site or her blog.

And if you'd like to win a copy of the award-winning (how I love saying that!)  Konstantos Marriage Demand leave a comment  - about pleasurees, guilt - do you feel guilty  enjoying the pleasures of romance - or not . . .  And I'll  put your name into the draw to win a copy.
Imight have to get the new kitten Charlie to pick the winners until Sid's mouth heals - but I reckon he'll be able to choose a name almost as well as ACOSB


  1. Hi Kate,

    The title should have been ROMANTIC ESCAPES. As a reader, I don't feel guilty about reading romance. Romance books for me are good to escape to from the day to day ordinary things.

    Congratulations to THE KONSTANTOS MARRIAGE DEMAND being awarded the Best Presents Extra!

    Please do not put my name in the giveaway as I already have escaped with Konstantos!

  2. Julie's film was truly sensitive and thoughtfully put together - I was very impressed. Hope the next few months are easier for you, Kate.

  3. Hi Nas

    Yes your title would do away with the 'guilt' word - I don't think there's any need to be guilty about enjoying something pleasurable that doens't hurt anyone else - it implies that others know better or are better somehow because they don't! Which is nonsense

    I love the idea of you escaping with Konstantos!

  4. Hi Jo - I'll admit I was a little concerned at the begining of the Guilty Pleasures film - I worried that it looked like she'd chosen only sad peole when there are som many positive and happy readers of romance. But staying with it and seeing the end meant I lkooked back in a different light.

    Thanks for your wishes for some easier months - I hope so too!

  5. Hi Kate,

    I saw the documentary at the London Film Fest last year. I did spend the first half wondering if the director had just picked people who were easy targets to poke fun at, but by the end the wonderful stories of the people involved had won me over.

    However, the director was there to answer questions and when someone asked her how she felt about that question - whether M&B books give women false expectations of love or whether they're harmless entertainment - she said she was undecided.

    I felt that was a bit of a cop-out really. I wasn't sure how you could spend so much time with those people and still come out thinking it might be damaging to read escapist novels. Especially in the case of the woman whose partner was bipolar - they so obviously had a deep love for each other, and her love of M&B didn't seem to affect their relationship at all.

    So, all in all, I enjoyed the documentary but possibly in spite of the director's intentions rather than because of them. Though maybe I'm just a bit protective of my romance reading/writing friends.


  6. Thak you for your comments, Jo - they fit a lot with the way I was thinking. And I came to the same conclusion - with the same feelings - as you. I had the strong feeling that the director didn't really know which side fo the fence to come down on - and I wondered if the life affirming, love affirming effect that the film had one me was because of or in spite of her.

    I've seen reviews that say that the Japanese lady had to 'make do' with her ordinary bespectacled husband instead of being swept of her feet into the dance contest by a hero-type - but I thought that her husband showed great love and carign by learning to dance so as to share his wife's pleasure and that he was a real hero for her.

    As to that question -

    that question - whether M&B books give women false expectations of love or whether they're harmless entertainment - she said she was undecided.

    Isn't the answer that it epends oln the person reading the books - the same as with anyone who reads/watches violent nasties - just because one person is driven to think in a certain way by them it doesn't mean everyone is.

    I would have loved to have seen some really positive, happy, achieving romance readers as well as the rather stereotyped 'sad' middle-aged women. I'd count myself - among those readers. And if the lady whose husband had such severe bipolar disorder was helped by any of my books while she was coping with his black moods then I'm really truly proud of that.

    Thank you for your comments.

  7. Hi Kate ~ Sorry I'm late to this post. Since I haven't seen the documentary I can't really comment on it but I must say that I don't feel guilt when I read romances but I do get a lot of pleasure. I think the documentary maker maybe set out to put down romances and found out that she couldn't do so.

  8. Hi Kaelee - don't worry about being late! I haven't been able to get in here all over the weekend - I was so busy. I thought exactly the same things as you - also maybe the film maker thought about NOT putting down romances but I don't think that woudl have sold.

    I really think the whole point is that to blame the books for the way people run their lives is ridiculous - our reading choices are only one part of why we are like we are and our dreams and fantasies come from so many many places inside us - for example we don't read romances until we're in our teens at the earliest - so there's the influence of the fairy stories etc that have been read to us for years befoer then!

  9. Charlie was out playing in the sunshine and wasn't keen on being called in even to pick winners but Imanaged to get him to do his duty and he picked Jo Gilliver

    So Jo please email me kate AT kate-waker .com and send me your postal address and a copy of The Konstantos Marriage Demand will be obn its way to you