I'm a nerd.
I've always been a nerd - whether that's a nerd for Shakespeare, a nerd for comic books or a nerd for Hollywood musicals of yesteryear...
And I'm most definitely a nerd for Mills & Boon novels.
My love affair with the publishers started at ten, when I discovered a three-in-one collection sat on a shelf at my grandmother's. Carole Mortimer, Betty Neels and Jo Leigh introduced me to a world of romance that I read and reread until the copy almost fell apart.
My mother discovered me reading it one day, and the book mysteriously disappeared after that - which isn't too surprising, considering some of the scenes in One Wicked Night - but that was it, I was hooked. (And for those of you who were wondering, I managed to track down another edition of the same book, and it now sits on my bookshelf!)
I started reading M&B again with a fury when I hit university, where as an impoverished student, I discovered that I could buy them in bulk from the local charity shops. And then one day, I discovered that they were selling them in the WH Smith's in London Victoria train station.
Starting with Heidi Rice's Cupcakes and Killer Heels, I started expanding my repertoire out from predominantly Regency Historicals to include anything I could get my hands on, something that was only made worse when one of my lecturers mentioned Emma Darcy in a lecture on passion in literature.
And that's when I discovered the academic world of Popular Romance Studies.
Fast forward seven years, one Masters in Shakespeare (I said I was a nerd) and a handful of conferences, and we end up today.
There's a conference in two weeks in Sheffield: Representations of Romantic Relationships and the Romance Genre in Contemporary Women’s Writing, hosted by the Postgraduate Contemporary Women's Writing Network, and I'm presenting a paper.
My paper's title? Busting the Mills & Boon Myth: Category Romance as an Instrument for Change. My plan was to focus in on one series of books - Tara Taylor Quinn's Where Secrets Are Safe, set in a women's domestic violence shelter - as I didn't want to go too broad and lessen my analysis. But as I did my research, bugging all the authors I know with questions, there was this voice at the back of my head...nagging away...
This is a twenty minute paper...you're only looking at one series by one author from one imprint...how can you possibly do this topic justice?
So I've given in, and as such am delighted to introduce The CatRom Project.
As it says on the (currently introductory) website: The CatRom Project is an exploration of the way in which category romances address and engages with social issues. Its primary objective is to create a collection of analysis of individual novels, as well as interviews with authors and editors within the genre on the subject of issues within category romance.
To be honest, I'm more than a little terrified. I've a pretty demanding, full-time job; I'm one of only two editors for PHS; and I've also a number of other commitments... But I've found myself making notes on my laptop on my commute everyday since I had the idea, and anyone who's made the mistake of asking me about it has had me talking at the for at least a good 45 minutes...
So, yeah, The CatRom Project is a go. Have a look, check it out, and feel free to leave me as many messages as you like about what you think of the topic!
Do you think that category romance can address and engage with social issues successfully? If so, let Ali know how and why in the comments! And she's always looking for book recs to add to her list...
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 the rest of her time promoting #StrongRomanceHeroines on Twitter, and cracking on with her first novel, Breakfast in Tunford.