Pissed off and paranoid

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when two or more crime writers are gathered together, one of them will say, ‘But of course, Romantic Novelists are the ones who really plunge the knife between the shoulder blades.’ All laugh.

Last night at the Crime and Thriller Awards, it was Ian Rankin.

Bum. Because Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors and I wanted him to be – well – not up for a lazy laugh, frankly.

To some extent, I see why he did it. Of course, it ought to be true. Writers live by dramatic irony, after all.  In real life, the gore and cruelty merchants should be stamp-collecting trainers of guide dogs for the blind. The love-conquers-all mob should demean their rivals, dispose of surplus spouses and destroy the universe while they’re at it.

But life isn’t like that.

I’ve just been diving through the Archive of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, in fifty years, what comes across most strongly is the sheer good heartedness of most of them.  No spite,  no briefing against.  There are disagreements, of course;  even rows.  (Usually when there wasn’t enough tea.  But then that first generation was mainly from a class who Told Cook and hadn’t actually had to provide it themselves before.  They soon adjusted.)  But they liked each other and they had a damn good time – and genuinely rejoiced in fellow writers’ success, especially those who came through the RNA’s unique New Writers’ Scheme.  In fact some, like Sheila Walsh and Elizabeth Harrison, stayed on for life, through chairing the organisation and beyond. 

And they, we, have gone on doing it for fifty years.

I didn’t find the Romantic Novelists’ Association until well into my career, and I can honestly say I’ve never found so many friends and like minds in one place before – though we quite often disagree.  And from those who don’t like me, I receive courtesy and a hearing.  How many organisatons of 700 people can you say that about?  

To be honest, the worst you can say about Romantic Novelists is that we can be just a touch defensive.  Rosie M Banks we can take.  (Well, actually, some of us are enthusiasts.)  George Orwell we have learned to live with  – romantic novels should be read by ‘wistful spinsters and fat wives of tobacconists’.  But when fellow popular novelists call us back-stabbing harridans, it hurts

And it’s not true.



  1. Louise Allen said,

    October 28, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I agree, Jenny – with all you say. And it is the sheer laziness of the insult (or “joke”) that so irritates – like the jounalists who just have to describe every romantic novel as a “bodice-ripper”.

  2. Shirley said,

    October 28, 2009 at 11:43 am

    As a member of both the RNA and the CWA, I was so disappointed that someone had to resort to the easy insult. That it was Ian Rankin, one of my favourite novelists, made it even worse.

  3. liz said,

    October 28, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Well said!

  4. October 28, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Also, as you know, a member of both. Every time this happens, and it happened publicly on a panel at CrimeFest with me, it infuriates me a little bit more. If we’re harpies and harridans, give me harpies and harridans every time.

  5. Holly Jacobs said,

    October 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm


    Liz Fielding posted your blog link on Twitter and I popped over to read it…hugs. It’s hard when someone you enjoyed lets you down.

    All I can say is, I never felt the need to make myself (or my genre) feel better about myself (or my genre ) by stabbing someone else in the back! Geesh. Don’t let it get you too down! The way I look at it, I’m making a living doing a job I love. That’s glee worthy enough that I can overlook the occasional toadish remark!

    Holly…not a member of RNA, but of it’s sister RWA and very proud of my genre and my writing friends!

  6. Anita Burgh said,

    October 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Perhaps they feel they need the publicity! However, well said and so elegantly written.

  7. Liz Fielding said,

    October 28, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    If RN’s were that lazy, we’d be booed out sight for being cliche ridden harpies and harridens. Just as well we’re not. That’s why they have to stoop to recycling the old gags.

  8. Gilli Allan said,

    October 28, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I agree. And it particularly rankles that it was Rankin! A favourite author of mine too. Of course we don’t always agree with one another, but the writers I have come into contact with over the years I’ve been a member of the RNA, have been unvaryingly welcoming, inclusive and supportive.

  9. katie fforde said,

    October 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    lovely piece Jenny! It’s why I don’t blog on the whole – can’t do the pretty with non fiction….

  10. Declan said,

    October 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Come on, folks, it was just a joke … and Ian Rankin is one of The Good Guys. Much more of this kind of whining and people might start to think he had a point …

    Cheers, Dec

  11. Jenny Haddon said,

    October 28, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Logic, Declan? Since when did backstabbing equal whining?

    But then, this is School of Bernard Manning argument – it’s just a bit of fun, so it’s okay.

    I don’t think so.

  12. Declan said,

    October 28, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Jenny – Straight to the ‘Bernard Manning’ strategy? For shame.

    Cheers, Dec

  13. Liz Fielding said,

    October 28, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Sorry Declan, would you care to dispute it logically. Or shall we send you the BM badge now?

  14. Declan said,

    October 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Liz – Logic would be good, certainly, but I’m not sure where we’d start. All I said was that Ian Rankin offered a (stale) joke, and nothing to get all worked up about, and the next thing I know I’m being branded a sexist (I presume that that what the Bernard Manning ref. is supposed to convey). As far as I can make out, you were miffed with Rankin for having a ‘lazy laugh’. Where did the sexism come into it? I’m pretty sure Ian Rankin isn’t sexist, and I know I’m not. So that leaves you good people … or does it?

    Cheers, Dec

  15. Judy Astley said,

    October 28, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Jenny – excellent. Declan, go and have a nice cup of tea and a lie-down, sweetie; you’re getting over-heated.
    Judy xx

  16. Declan said,

    October 28, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Hi Judy – Just on my way to bed now, actually, so thanks for the advice, although I’ll hardly need the cup of tea. There really is nothing like being patronised by a humourless romantic novelist to send me off to zzzzzz ….

    xxx, Dec

  17. anne gracie said,

    October 29, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Jenny, I completely agree — cheap laughs and nastily untrue. Talk about a bitchy stab in the back!

    We once had a journo sent to do a feature on the Australian Romance Writers conference, and she came, expecting to make mock. Instead she was blown away by the warmth and generosity and friendliness she found.

    Just a small comment to Declan — a “joke” that’s at someone’s expense, is untrue, hurtful and oft repeated ceases to become funny.

  18. Declan said,

    October 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Hi Anne – A fair point, and civilly made, and I thank you for that.

    Cheers, Dec

  19. Liz Fielding said,

    October 29, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Civility is always welcome.

  20. Kate Lace said,

    October 29, 2009 at 11:15 am

    But why do the CWA feel the need to make the comment in the first place?. I can’t ever remember anyone in the RNA taking a pop at the CWA, either as an organisation or at individual members. Odd.

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