Where’d I put that damn support hose?

Filed under: about me, RNA

dame barbsdame julie
Guess which one is a current romantic novelist?

I didn’t attend the RNA Summer Party this year; I had to stay in, so I had my friend Lee over instead and she trashed my plot whilst sweetening the blow with champagne. However, I love the RNA, and I love the RNA parties. Romantic novelists are amongst the most friendly, supportive, witty, interesting, well-read, intelligent people I know and there is nothing better than to stand around drinking wine, comparing shoes and talking with them for several hours.

Therefore, I was quite surprised to read the Daily Mail article about the party, which implied that romantic novelists are all elderly ladies with blue rinses, twin-sets and pearls who pen raunchy sex scenes to top up their pensions.

Well, actually, the article didn’t imply that at all. Rather, it directly stated it as fact. The headline is “The Blue Rinse and Bodice Rippers: In Twin-Sets and Pearls, Meet the Ladies Behind Britain’s Steamiest Novels”. This is quite surprising to me, as I’ve been a member for nearly 10 years and have yet to get a blue rinse. I did have bright magenta hair for some time, but not blue (not yet). I’ve never owned a twin-set nor pearls. And though I do occasionally pen raunchy sex scenes (and may perhaps resemble Barbara Cartland—see photo above), I haven’t got a pension.

Okay…it’s an inaccurate headline. Romantic novelists come in all ages, and at any party there’s an age range from 20s to 80s at least, all at various stages of their writing career. I’m quite proud that our membership is age-blind, and there’s a really good reason for this: writing, unlike many professions, is something that you can do whatever your age. My local writers’ group has a similar spread of ages. If there’s a slight leaning towards the over-50s, that’s probably because writing often needs a long apprenticeship, and because it is most often a secondary career. It usually just doesn’t pay enough to be a main source of income.

Most people are busy building their careers in their 20s, and raising their families in their 30s and 40s. It’s only later, when some measure of success and maturity have been gained, that a lot of people get the chance to sit down and realise their dream of writing. Especially women, in this society where the bulk of child-rearing is generally taken on by females.

But besides being inaccurate, it’s hugely condescending. For example, Philip Roth, who recently won the International Man Booker Prize, is 78 years old. Howard Jacobson, who won the Booker in 2010, is 69. Fair enough. But does the media coverage about Roth or Jacobson focus on their less-than-trendy fashion choices or mention that their writing is a nice little “top-up” for their pensions? Uh…no. Of course not.

Is this because they’re writing literary fiction, or because they’re male?

Because for men, of course, age doesn’t really matter. I would be extremely surprised if a Daily Mail journalist walked into a professional association of successful males and bothered to notice that many of them were past their first flush of youth. Powerful, successful men generally are older. It’s accepted. The average age of a US president taking office is 55. The average age of a UK prime minister as they leave 10 Downing Street, to pursue new careers, is 61, which is just about the average age of the sample of romantic novelists whom the Mail journalist interviewed. (Though she did choose to talk to people over a certain age, ignoring the many novelists present who are in their 20s or 30s.) The average age of a US senator is 60. We won’t even talk about the House of Lords—okay, we will. *Ahem*: 69.

These are all mature, experienced people. They are all also, by the way, overwhelmingly male.

So the article managed to be ageist, sexist, and prejudiced against romantic fiction (reducing its authors to “sex-obsessed pensioners”). Oh well—I’m still grateful for the coverage. Romantic fiction isn’t talked about enough. The journalist did say she enjoyed the party and liked the people there. And the article rightfully mentioned that the RNA is “friendly and supportive” and that “romance is one of the few areas in publishing where sales are steady.”

Jan Jones is quoted in the article as saying: “People have always looked down their noses at us. Let them.”

We know the truth.

Rant over. Tomorrow I’ll post a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch for all of us old ladies to drool over.

Leave a Comment


22 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Ha, those two photos side by side are just PERFECT. Great post too. xx

  2. Good post, Julie. The laziness of the article really shocked me. Oh, and the lies.

  3. The Daily Mail piece was not just lazy, it was cowardly. How much braver to say: “D’you know what, I arrived at the party with certain preconceptions about the RNA and its writers, but I was surprised…….”

    It’s unsurprisinging that of the the hundreds of pics taken by the photographer, none were used. They’d have given the lie to the articles main premise.

  4. Hear hear. And anyway, what the hell is wrong with wearing twin-sets and pearls? I love both and I won’t reach pension age for another 30 years.

    • Go you with your twin-set and pearls! Will never go out of style.

  5. Love the photos side by side, Julie!

    I’m with Gilli – it’s very telling that out of the hundreds of photos the DM photographer took, they used NONE.

  6. Excellent post Julie.

    I cringed when I read this article, as I’m sure we all did, but what made me cringe the most wasn’t just the lies, but the extreme laziness of this journalist and others like her. It was quite clear she’d written this article before she went to the party and then decided to make it up when what she saw wasn’t what she had already planned to write.

    Interesting that her research (or rather total lack of it) was equally as lazy, repeating that 100K per year earnings tag for M&B authors that she got from another Mail journalist who interviewed me last year and decided to quote that as my salary in an article. Ha, I wish. Of course, said journalist hadn’t actually asked me what I earned, she’d deliberately misquoted a much more informed article in The Guardian in which the journalist had asked me what romantic novelist in general could earn and I had said anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands (thinking of Nora Roberts and the like). But why print the facts when the ones you make-up fit your purpose better?

    As a journalist myself (and one who once did film reviews for the Mail!), I know that most are honest, ethical people genuinely looking for an interesting new angle. Unfortunately the Daily Mail is a paper which would much rather print negative article and recycle boring old cliches… One good thing though, the quotes she did use (even though she desperately tried to slant them in her favour) from Annie and others showed us for what we are. Smart, savvy women with a great sense of humour… Although at the moment that’s failing me a bit!

    • I agree with you, Heidi; that “100K a year” factoid is getting a little bit stale.

      But Annie and the other RNA members interviewed really did sound fantastic. They did us proud.

  7. Yup, yup.

    Thanks for coming by, guys, and for your support and general fabness.

  8. Apparently the comments on the Mail article have all disappeared from their website, which is too bad because there were some really great ones, including Jill Mansell’s about her best rain bonnet.

  9. And if you get a chance, check out the #thisiswhataromanticnovelistlookslike hashtag on Twitter:!/saved-search/%23thisiswhataromanticnovelistlookslike

  10. This article is right on. While older men are portrayed as mature, experienced and powerful, older women are often disparaged and their talents marginalized. Not that most of the women present at the RNA party were actually elderly by any stretch of the imagination. As Talli Roland tweeted: Daily Mail = Daily Fail.

    • Yes, Ranae. What got me wasn’t only that the entire RNA was called ancient—which we’re not—but that successful, professional, amazing RNA members who happen to be over 50 were described in disparaging cliches.

  11. Brilliant post and I love those pictures Julie – you look divine in pink!

  12. Love your post – you put the case for Romantic Novelists really well.

  13. Well said! I particularly liked your point about older men. Generally I’m a believer in the ‘Never Wrestle with a Pig’ approach to unfair criticism, but I did loathe the way that article tried to put us all in one box.

  14. Well done Julie, I love you guys. And the RNA is a wonderful group, I agreed with the line about how lovely and friendly and supportive you all are something my famous author wife and I always comment on to people.

    When I read the article I was annoyed on your behalf. Not annoyed that the more mature ladies were focused upon, after all loveliness is equal across all your ages, so we must take nothing away from them for this but give them support because I just felt they were used to add slant to the pre-conceived idea of the journalist who was looking to make the people “fit the story”. I loved the feistiness of their responses and how they upset the image the journalist had of them. So much so that she did acknowledge they were not as she expected. So I say ‘good on you girls!!’.

    But the whole article did lean heavily on the age ‘thing’, and I am so surprised because the journalist, a lady herself, wasn’t in her first flush of youth either, so I begin to wonder who she was writing for, perhaps to encourage herself she still had years of productive writing ahead of her????? Well if she follows the example of her interviewees then she certainly has, and I say ‘why not!’

    I can’t see why they printed photos of Jilly Copper and Barbara Cartland when she even brought her own photographer with her and he was busy taking snaps of people?

    I don’t know where you all go from here, this seems a great opportunity for someone to ‘kick bottoms’ (I’m a vicar I can’t say ‘kick arse’) and make a noise and see if the papers can pick up some of the national RNA annoyance?

    And I know that none of you have anything against the ages of the ladies spoken to, simply that (and this is just my opinion) they were used by the journalist to portray an image of a wonderful group that simply does not exist, she wrote the article in a rather ‘poking fun way’ which is very unfair.

    A couple of lines about the breadth of ages engaged in Romantic Writing and the RNA would have been a good avert to encourage everyone to join the RNA if for no other reason than they could also join in the fun and joy of meeting like-minded writers (even moustached men ie Roger Sanderson)

    The journalist seems to have missed a small aspect about the RNA, which if anything is one of the reasons why ladies of lovely maturity are still actively writing still full of vim-and-vigour and are so young at heart,( and why I love coming to your RNA events and you are all fun to be with ) simply put, Love and Romance keeps you young. God forbid that we should be so surprised about that when romantic books are the biggest genre in writing.

    Here endeth the lesson, Amen

    • Brilliant, Kelvin. Love and romance do keep us young. Well put.

      I also think this is really important:

      I know that none of you have anything against the ages of the ladies spoken to, simply that (and this is just my opinion) they were used by the journalist to portray an image of a wonderful group that simply does not exist, she wrote the article in a rather ‘poking fun way’ which is very unfair.

      Exactly…one of the things I like about the RNA is that it is completely age blind. We are all there because we love writing these stories, and our age doesn’t matter. I think the novelists who were interviewed did a wonderful job…it was the bits in between their actual words that annoyed me!

  15. Well said, everyone. There’s not much I can add to this, except: Julie, fantastic photo!

  16. All excellent comments, and fab photo, Julie. I wish we could get a bunch of RNA ladies dolled up in twin-sets, pearls, support stockings, stilettos and looking KNOCKOUT! Then send that to the DM.


  17. It would sort of be like a Slut Walk, only in reverse.

  18. […] Incidentally, if you’re wondering what a romance writer really does look like, check out this brilliant response by Julie Cohen. […]

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