I write romance fiction, meaning the romance plot developed in the nineteenth century, changed and subverted in the twentieth century, but still being written, by both men and women, today. When men write the romance plot it's called literature. When women write it, it's called 'commercial' and is marketed as escapist, written by women, for women. (When it's marketed as 'chick lit', it's intended for an even narrower market - single women aged between 30 and 45.)
In the nineteenth century, the romance plot, concerning the union of male and female principal characters – was the form used by Jane Austen, William Thackeray, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell.
Austen and Thackeray used it to comment on and satirise society.
Dickens, Eliot and Gaskell used it to explore hypocritical attitudes, narrow convention, social class and the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
Charlotte Bronte used it to explore sexual politics, women’s education, a woman's place in society.
But at the heart of the romance plot are always the principal male and female characters and how they change in the course of a search for self-knowledge and truth.
In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth and Darcy come to see how prejudice, in her case, and pride, in his case, have blinded them to the truth about their own characters and the characters of others.
In Great Expectations, Pip discovers that love and loyalty are more important than money and social advancement.
In Middlemarch, both Dorothea and Lydgate come to realise that false ideas have led them into bad marriages.
In the 20th century, the romance novel, the romance plot – began to change and be subverted by narrative strategies such as the unreliable narrator, multiple first person perspectives and by tragic or open endings.
Ford Madox Ford’s, The Good Soldier – a brilliant book, one of my favourite novels – has an unreliable narrator.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the romance plot with a tragic ending.
But these are still romance novels, subverted, extended, but still concerned with self-knowledge and commenting on social convention, class and change.
The romance novel, in one form or another, continued to be written throughout the twentieth century, and in its various forms – unreliable narrator, multiple unreliable narrators, time shifts, shifts of tense and the ubiquitous present tense - is still written today by both men and women. But when it’s written by women, it’s mostly given girlie covers and marketed as 'women’s fiction' or ' chick lit. Even when it deals with serious issues such as consumerism, self-image, class, feminism, sexual politics.
Using the romance plot in one form or another - unreliable narrator, multiple viewpoints, time shifts - I've dealt with adoption, murder, identity and reconciliation, fraud and self-deception. My aim, above all, is to write good stories, to keep you turning the pages, to entertain you, to make you think.