For all the stereotypical images of the British as having stiff upper lips and buttoned-up repression, this nation loves nothing so much as a love story. Romance has been baked into the fictional fabric of these isles for hundreds of years – from the windswept yearning of the Brontës to the saucy escapades of Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper. Yet both in terms of the women wielding the pen and those portrayed on the page, this is a very specific kind of romance – one that reflects only one aspect of British life and love. Where do Black British women fit into the narrative of romance fiction?
As an author and as a reader, I believe that romance novels perform a special kind of magic. Romantic love is the synthesis of almost all of our emotions; we fear the tragedy of its loss, we understand the loneliness of its lack, we crave its receipt, we’re angry at its dwindling. But most of all, it can give us pleasure of the deepest kind. I’ve had the experience of falling in love, and each time I pick up a romance novel or put my fingers on the keyboard to write a romantic story, I get the chance to repeat that sensation over again. It’s what keeps me coming back to it – and I know I’m not alone. I reached out to award-winning journalist, playwright and podcaster Bim Adewunmi, a fellow romantic fiction enthusiast. She has written about romance as being “the most human genre”, a belief she still holds.
“Romance fiction is a sort of triumph of hope over existing despair,” she told me, “and I think of it as a well to draw upon in good times and bad.”