"Write your romance..." the post on my facebook feed pulled me in. Throughout the day, as I worked and schlepped, I continued to turn back to my news feed just to find the post and stare again and again at its picture. As I mulled over the notice it was as if something was calling to me from a place deep inside. A place, that I didn't recognize. The advertisement was for a a weekend writing retreat in beautiful Hout Bay. I considered it for some days; a crazy, too expensive! how would I leave the kids? kind of secret. I was a published author of hard-hitting non-fiction, acerbic columns and features for glossy mags. But this calling was different; kind of guilty, indulgent and utterly bewitching.
My life was in a tough place. I had recently suffered a crushing personal betrayal, my financial situation sucked, my son's health was as always, precarious, and my country was becoming an increasingly dangerous and demoralizing place to live in. Life felt hard and I no longer wanted to read about personal struggles that felt too close too home. I was in my forties and I knew damn well that the world was a corrupt and perilous place. My own middle class life didn't feel like a romance, but a gritty tragic-comedy in the bleak tones of gray/blue realism.
Up until that point I had never once considered writing romance. It wasn't on my radar, wasn't part of my politically-sussed, highly stressed urban outlook. Admittedly I had read a few more Mills & Boon and Danielle Steele's than I would admit to in polite company, but two days later it was done. I had shelved out an amount of money that could have/should have been spent on re-upholstering threadbare furniture or damp proofing my TV room where the paint was peeling off in great swathes, on the course, an air ticket and a room in a b&b that turned out to be comically awful.
During the course I fleshed out the bare bones of what was to become my first romance novel "My African Craving". I have always had a great longing for wild spaces and time spent in the magnificent Phinda Game Reserve was the backdrop for my fictitious reserve "Lebombo". In the space of two days our writing coach gave us some brilliant tools and tips for formatting a romance. I left the course with a solid plan and a workable outline. I would pen a steamy romance between an utterly delectable man of the soil; a South African game ranger and a strong, complex career woman whose path was set on a collision course with the hero.
When I returned to my life in Johannesburg, everything was different. I had been transformed. I was in a kind of daze, grabbing up all the spicy romances I could get my hands on 'for research purposes' of course! My life was now peopled by randy dukes, dashing highlanders and rugged cowboys with rough hands that could do what city boys couldn't...
I decided to write under another name. Now I felt freer, more daring.
And I wrote like I was on fire. Four months later I put down the last full stop on my manuscript and felt the sweetest and most exquisite sense of accomplishment. My story was rough; it was in desperate need of editing, but it was, I thought, heartfelt and vivid. After several rejections a small, but passionate publisher in the United States accepted my book for publication. This was it. I was a romance novelist. I had worked hard and done my very best. And I wondered then as I do now, how was it that writing a romance seemed to come so easily?
And I realized something critical. Romance is amazing. Romance is important. In the world of romance it is the female gaze that overrides all else. In good romance the heroine gets what she wants, but not easily. She must overcome obstacles and surmount challenges. Ideally those challenges should arise not merely from outside interference but from her own nature. She must slay the dragon, she must not cave in to her own doubts, the restrictions society has placed on her, or fall prey to misunderstandings and manipulations. Both hero and heroine can only come together finally after both have moved from the identity that their situation has placed on them, into their full and true essence. Once they have done so, a transformed existence awaits; love, happiness and honesty.'Happily ever after' isn't necessarily corny. It is the promise of what can be achieved when the inner and outer battle has been fought and won with courage and honesty.
Romance is the most widely read literary genre on earth, it sells more than double that of next most popular genre, crime. So tell me when is the last time you saw a romance novelist invited to the Franschhoek Literary Festival? Why is romance, unlike crime or memoir always judged by its worst offerings? Is it because romance is primarily written by women for women?
Whatever it is that continues to stigmatize romance. I don't care. I'm a proud reader of romance and a proud writer. And just so you know, I don't believe in guilty pleasures. If I love something, then I love it.
- Audrey Flynn
My African Craving is available for pre-order on Amazon