All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Melbourne Writers Fest – Sunday 26th August {Part 1}

on August 27, 2012

Sunday 26th August was my first day of my first Melbourne Writers Festival. I met Marg at the train station and we caught the train in arriving in time to hunt down a few quick Mali’s before scuttling over for the free Morning Reads session, hosted by Angela Myer over at Literary Minded.

On that morning were Sefi Atta, Carrie Tiffany, Uzodinma Iweala and Honey Brown. I have read 2 Honey Brown books and own two Carrie Tiffany books. Sefi Atta and Uzodinma, both Nigerian born were new to me. It was a nice, relaxing session to start the day, each author talked briefly and then read a section from one of their works… I came away mentally adding both Atta and Iweala to my TBR list.

Then Marg and I headed off to a A Fine Romance, a panel featuring Stephanie Laurens, Su Dharmapala and Rachael Treasure. Laurens is a well known and loved romance author of 49 works with #50 to come soon! Dharmapala’s debut novel The Wedding Season was published this year and contains romantic elements and Treasure is a rather well known conptemporary womens rural lit author. I was quite looking forward to this panel.

The first question was what inspires each of them.

Rachael Treasure: Treasure is inspired by love – she said she is a person that radiates love. She’s a mother and her kids are her everything. She quoted Louise Hay “either you’re in a place of love, or a place of fear”. Her books are not just about romantic love, but also a love of the land and a love of the food and a love of the country.

Su Dharmapala: She sees love (romantic love) as a part of the human emotional landscape. If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of who we are as a society. Love is all about connection – everyone loves, so why not write about it?

Stephanie Laurens: Stephanie is a genre fiction writer, so a bit different – for her it is all about entertaining people with stories. The development of a relationship is at the centre of a romance novel – readers don’t really care what else is going on in a heroine’s life, they are only interested in the development of the relationship. Because this is what the audience wants, this is what she writes. The quest for love is something we all aim for, it’s something everyone relates to.

The next question was is there a point where culture stops and romance takes over?

Rachael Treasure: Yes, but she said that she wants characters/readers to find the inner/self love.

Su Dharmapala: For her, culture defines the modes of courtship. These days, youths play out a lot of their interactions online: Twitter, facebook, blogs, instagram, etc. and as hers was a contemporary novel, she included this form of communication. She tries to include an arc of growing up, of realising what love means – a series of realisations! She was very clear that for herself, she didn’t really know what love meant until she held her newborn son in her arms – it was very different to what she had experienced with her husband. She explores arranged marriages in her novel (she is of Sri Lankan background). A lot of the book came from some of her own experiences, by 30 she had travelled, she had a career, she’d tried to meet men herself in the more modern ways but nothing had really come of it. Eventually her mother introduced her to some men, including the one she ended up marrying. She treated her mother arranging meetings as a ‘dating service’ and was very emphatic about as long as there is no pressure on anyone, or coercion, then it can work quite well. She’s very strong willed and capable of standing up for herself but she could see how people who were not so strong could be coerced into matches that were not perhaps what they wanted.

Stephanie Laurens: Culture is something you don’t allow to play too great a role in genre fiction as genre fiction needs to work somewhat universally. Culture is just the backdrop, like the scenery in a play – readers focus on the characters. The Regency period is loved in romance because of the aristocracy. Before the arrival of the Regency period, the aristocracy married for convenience, a merger of wealth and/or titles, love did not play a part and was never desired. From 1790 onwards there was the romance movement with the Romantic Poets etc and this heralded a change in the way in which marriage was viewed. By Regency in 1810 it was possible and accepted to marry for love. In books set within this time, characters have to talk. There’s no internet, no television, no cars, no distractions of modern life.

Even though their books are quite different, the female characters within them share quite similar traits: strong willed, capable, often spirited and able to stand up to the hero. Where does the inspiration for that come from?

Rachael Treasure: She draws her inspiration from her life – the women around her, her friends. Her first novel was picked up off the slush pile from Penguin – she wanted to write something that represented her and her friends, the girls that swear, drink, have sex but are also strong in their own right, stand on their own two feet and get things done. Not women who are just written to serve the men that are in the books. Men need to recognise and appreciate strong women.

Su Dharmapala: Su had 15 years in the corporate world before she wrote her debut novel and women she met there would scare the pants off some men! She wanted to write what she saw around her. She’s unashamedly a feminist and is all about choice! If you want to stay at home and raise your children, do it! If you want to work, do that! No one should be judged for the choices they make. In her opinion, literature needs to reflect reality.

Stephanie Laurens: In genre fiction, characters are archetypes. Readers want that because archetypes are something that they recognise and also understand. The characters behave in a way in which the readers anticipate and expect. Herself, Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich all work with the same archetypes, but how they flesh them out is quite different and that’s the challenge of a genre author, fleshing out those archetypes. Authors don’t dictate, the readers do – authors simply fulfill the wants and desires of the readers. She said that over the top alpha males are not really the sort of guy that anyone actually wants in their lives, it’s the fantasy of the  heroine being able to bring him to his knees.

The 3 authors were asked next what they have learned from writing about men.

Rachael Treasure: She is not looking for literary reviews, she is looking for blokes to read her books, she wants to resonate with male readers.

Su Dharmapala: Su spoke of a need to “get past the gender divide”, and this includes emotions. There are HUMAN needs, not gender needs and being in a loving and supportive relationship is one of them. There is a need to be looking at people, instead of gender and men need love just as much as women do.

Stephanie Laurens: Stephanie said that she is much better known for her male characters than her female ones. She estimates about a 15% of the readership in the romance genre is male and that you can’t have a relationship where you are only talking about one side.

Passion came up next! This was a funny topic as the authors talked about some spicy scenes.

Rachael Treasure: Rachael does lots of hands on research! She was very, very blunt about this! She said she was always thinking with her author brain – often in the moment she would be thinking ‘oh this is nice, how can I convey this on paper?’ Also, realism is important, realistic characters who aren’t supermodels.

Su Dharmapala: Her only sex scene for The Wedding Season was axed! She says she likes to write about intimacy and therefore, sex through intimacy. It’s all about how you connect.

Stephanie Laurens: For Stephanie, every scene must have a purpose, including love/sex scenes. Sex furthers plot development – if it doesn’t then it shouldn’t be there. It is a ‘dialogue’ going on between the male and female that expands their intimacy, it is never just a love scene.

That pretty much ended the session – there were a couple of questions in the audience, including one that talked about covers for romance novels. This is something well discussed between avid romance readers – the bodice ripping covers are fairly universally panned but yet they keep appearing. Stephanie said that most of her covers are designed for the American market. Walmart have a huge share in the genre romance market and the covers are designed to catch the busy woman’s eye as she pushes her trolley – attire gives the era, an embrace says it’s a romance. They want to catch someone and have them grab it off the shelf and go on their way. They’re designed for the people that don’t have time to read blurbs.

All in all it was a rather fabulous panel! I found Rachael Treasure very outgoing and gregarious, her books are pretty hot and spicy apparently so I might have to give one a go and see what they’re like! Su Dharmapala was very funny, I enjoyed her talking immensely and her book has caught my eye before due to the cover so I’m definitely going to read it. I found Stephanie Laurens incredibly well spoken, very knowledgeable and eloquent.

A great start to the day – this turned out longer than I anticpated so stay tuned for Part 2 – In Conversation With Gillian Mears!

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11 responses to “Melbourne Writers Fest – Sunday 26th August {Part 1}

  1. Danielle says:

    FANTASTIC stuff! I soooooooo wish I’d been at the Morning Read!
    Great recap!
    Looking forward to Melina Marchetta tomorrow (*squeeeeeeeeee*!)

  2. Marg says:

    I read Rachel Treasure many years ago and I don’t remember her books being all that spicy but you know..I’m getting old and maybe not remembering as well as I should.

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    What a great event!

  4. Tien says:

    Awesome that you got to go 🙂

  5. sally906 says:

    Having been brought up in Nigeria I pricked up my ears when both you and Marg mentioned Sefi Atta and Uzodinma Iweala – the names aren’t familiar so will be looking them up for sure!

  6. […] and Su Dharmapala, was covered by several blogs participating in the AWW challenge, including 1 girl…2 many books, The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, and Book […]

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