Looking for a Villain?

Actually, I don’t think there is a villain in this story, certainly not Mr Rankin. He had to say something, poor chap. He went for short and funny. And Romantic Novelists Red in Tooth and Claw is number one in the Crime Writers’ Joke Book.
It surfaces again and again – in Harrogate last year, at a local conference this;  in print, in after dinner speeches;  year after year, after year.

Rankin said it himself, a few weeks ago, interviewed by The Independent on Sunday. ‘”Crime writers,” he explained, “are usually very well-balanced, approachable people, because we channel all our crap on to the page. In the crime-writing community we joke about romantic fiction writers and how they’re all evil, backstabbing bitches because they don’t have that outlet …” ‘

As I said yesterday, it would be a great story if it were true – rather like Georgette Heyer in Devil’s Cub, saying that ‘Mr Comyn, for all his prosaic bearing, cherished a love for the romantic which Lord Vidal,a very figure of romance, quite lacked.’

But I have just sat reading the RNA Archives, moved to tears sometimes by the affection, the respect, the support these romantic writers have shown for the last fifty years to the new writers (the ‘pre-published’), authors both struggling and  successful, and sometimes the damn near post published.

For instance, five years after she died, people were still writing of ‘our dear Mary Burchell’, the ebullient, romantic and supremely generous second President. (Heroic, too. With her heart in her mouth, she and her sister helped Jews escaping from Germany and Austria before the War. Read her autobiography, republished last year as Safe Passage by Ida Cook. )

So – I don’t want to demonise Mr Rankin, or any other writer, of crime or otherwise, and I apologise to anyone who thinks I do.  (Really sorry Paula and Eileen, if you think I was carried away.)  I don’t even want to stop them telling the joke, if they enoy it. I just thought that someone, sometime, should say, actually it’s not true.

If not now, when?

If not me, who?

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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.