The romantic comedy genre can tell empowering stories by depicting characters facing relatable and moving situations. Yet it is often not regarded as a significant literary genre, especially if written by female authors. On 5th April, Waterstones Piccadilly held a Championing the Rom-Com panel hosted by Lucy Vine, who was joined by authors Sheila O’Flanagan, Jill Mansell and Radhika Sanghani. Together, they discussed the genre, each author’s writing process, and the media’s perception of romantic comedies.
Images courtesy of Waterstones Piccadilly
Vine firstly introduced each panellist, who then presented their latest work. Sheila O’Flanagan, who will soon be celebrating her 30th novel, talked about her book Three Weddings and a Proposal. In it, she tells the story of Delphi, a single independent woman who is content with her life. However, one day she receives a phone call that could entirely change her life. As O’Flanagan said, it is necessary to tell stories in which female characters are happy with their single lives, as that is the reality for many women nowadays. Furthermore, she described her novel as hopefully uplifting and empowering for the readers.
Similarly, Radhika Sanghani’s book Thirty Things I Love About Myself is a story about a single woman. It revolves around Nina Mistry, who, on her thirtieth birthday, accidentally ends up in jail and later finds a self-help book which gives her the tools to transform her life. According to Sanghani, the novel is a journey of self-love. It is a story of growth, and is told in a merge of fiction, comedy and self-help.
While describing her latest novel Should I Tell You?, Jill Mansell expressed her love for writing beautiful settings. It is no wonder then that she chose Cornwall as the location for her book. The story is about a foster family and the interpersonal dynamics. Mansell’s inspiration came from an episode of Escape to the Country, in which a wealthy, older man married a younger woman. Similarly in Should I Tell You?, foster dad, Teddy, found a new love in young and charming Olga. Mansell said that she is fascinated by how people always assume things about others, in this case, why a younger woman would marry an older man.
After introducing each author and their latest work, Vine asked O’Flanagan about what it feels like to have written thirty novels. O’Flanagan admitted that it does not feel any different to celebrating other books, as she feels as good as her last book. She also acknowledged that during the writing process, she feels obligated to try her best with each work. There is always the feeling of panic while preparing for publication, wondering if people will be interested in the story and buy it. Nevertheless, after thirty books, she feels privileged and grateful for all her readers who enjoy and continue to purchase her novels.
Vine also asked if and how the writing process differed during lockdown. O’Flanagan said that lockdown started after she began working on the novel, so it did not affect her greatly. However, she had to work from home only instead of going to cafes, where she could observe those around her and gain inspiration for her writing. Mansell and Sanghani found this point relatable, agreeing that not having inspiration from real-life made the writing process trickier. Moreover, O’Flanagan found herself adopting certain wording due to the situation in the world, such as ‘crowded’.
Vine then asked Mansell, who published over thirty novels, about her writing process. Almost a rarity in today’s world of technology, Mansell writes all her novels by hand, having a supply of pens of all different colours. She also confessed that to help her with her writing, she usually includes various characters within her work in case of getting stuck on one character’s plotline, as she is then able to move on to another one. The editing part of the writing process is her least favourite, as by being a writer, you have to be able to take criticism and advice given to you. However, she often reads through reviews and constructive criticism of her work, which helps her master the craft.
Sanghani also shared more about her writing process for Thirty Things I Love About Myself. She admitted that the story was partly inspired by her own journey of self-love and acceptance. To Vine’s question, if she thought of writing a memoir instead, Sanghani answered no. She said that she simply loves fiction and romantic comedy and that she did not believe her memoir would be read by many. She viewed her experience of writing the novel as joy, escapism, and an honest take on women’s lives.
After all the authors shared information about their novels and their writing processes, Vine guided the conversation toward the authors’ view of the media perception of the romantic comedy genre. All three authors agreed on various points, for instance, that there is a difference between a rom-com written by a man and a rom-com written by a woman. When a rom-com is written by a man, it is often more respectable and considered more prestigious, even though it is still the same genre. Thus, women’s voices often tend to be overshadowed, even if there is no reason to. Nonetheless, the authors expressed hope of the stigma being broken in the future.
The panel was concluded by a series of rapid-fire questions prepared by Vine, in which the panellists shared random facts about themselves and the novels they have been working on, all of which will tell more inspiring and touching stories to their readers.
To find out about more events at Waterstones Piccadilly, you can look at their website here.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor