Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time Out Thursday - Popular Romance Studies

This week, Pink Heart Society editor Ali Williams is talking all about her other sideline - namely, writing about romance academically...

I've always been a bit of a geek.

And when I say a geek, I mean a massive geek.  The only time I got a detention at school, was when my maths teacher caught me reading Theresa Breslin's Remembrance instead of cracking on with the trignometry questions we'd been set.

So yeah.  Geeky.

That's not to say I'm not proud of the fact though, and when I hit university I embraced my geekiness, culminating in a Master in Shakespeare.  That's right, I'm more than a little obsessed with The Bard, and in 2009 I headed to Cambridge to give a paper at their annual Shakespeare conference on Romeo and Juliet and the Cybertextual (which just a rather fancy way of geeking out about versions of R+J found online).

But it's here that my academic story takes a step sideways.

It was around this time that I'd started teaching and, as a way of escaping a career that clearly wasn't meant to be, reading Mills & Boon/Harlequin books again.  And still being in that postgrad mindset I started looking for academic takes on this.

That's when I found IASPR.


IASPR - or the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance - is beyond awesome.  I suddenly discovered that there's a whole world of academia that takes popular romance seriously and I wanted in.

So I started reading.  

If you're interested in Popular Romance Studies then start with Pamela Regis' A Natural History of the Romance Novel.  As an introduction, it defines the genre, talks about narrative structure and then expands on what can be seen as the key components of the romantic novel.


There's also Laura Vivanco's For Love and Money:  The Literary Art of Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance.  This looks more specifically at category romance and argues that as opposed to being built from a set formulae, many are skillfully crafted and deal with larger societal issues.


If you're not sure where to go from there, Eric Selinger and Sarah Frantz collate the best of the rest in New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction, which covers everything from alternative sexualities within romance to war and romance.

And then you've got the online resources; IASPR has their own online, peer-assessed journal, and many of those who contribute to it also contribute to Teach Me Tonight, a blog that looks at topics of discussions and Calls for Papers within the community.

But if you're interested in academia, then lurking online soon isn't enough.  So last year I submitted and had a paper accepted to IASPR's conference in Greece.  I got to geek out in preparation, interviewing a large number of ModernTempted / KISS authors, talking to them about weddings in their novels, and whether the way that the internet can be seen as appropriating the experience has influenced the way they write about them.

It was an incredible (and petrifying) experience, where I got to meet some of the world's experts on Popular Romance Studies, as well as having the chance to expand my own knowledge.

Which brings me to the present day.

And to Women Writing Pleasure:

I consider myself to be lucky enough to have been welcomed into the romance community (and here I'm talking about the writing community), so it only seems right that I give back in some small way.  

And for me, that means geeking out about romance in whatever way seems most appropriate.  So yeah, if you need me, I'm going to be working on a proposal for a paper on sex in contemporary category romances.  And if you get an email begging for an interview on this topic at some point in the future, I'm not being weird, I'm genuinely asking some serious questions...

Do you agree that romance novels deserves academic consideration?  And who would you recommend as a starter into the world of popular romance studies?

Ali Williams grew up in Croydon and spent her teenage years in a convent girls' school. She then fled to university where she discovered champagne cocktails, a capella singing and erotica.

These days she blogs about perceptions of romance, chick lit and women in society and spends an extraordinary amount of time coercing male friends to pose with her favourite Mills & Boon books to the bemusement of the Twittersphere.
Passionately vocal about the wonders of romance, Ali defies you to slam romance novels within her hearing!


  1. I totally agree that it needs more academic consideration! I'm endlessly fascinated by the reasons romantic fiction has remained popular for at least the last century and if you can do a uni module on Chaucer Online, which I did, you can surely do a module at uni about one of the most popular genres in the world!

    1. Haha! Agreed completely. And I love the fact that there's this incredible PRS community who are so welcoming!

  2. Absolutely I agree it needs more academic consideration! I find it interesting how trends and the changing role of women in society is reflected in romance novels, more so than in any other genre. Even the way some things haven't changed is interesting, I think it shows where we need to look at our attitude towards women and women's relationships. Such a great topic!