Welcome to the Budding Writers Series. Here you will find interviews with budding writers in and around Edinburgh. Its purpose is not only to highlight the amazing literary potential within the city, but also to give advice and inspiration to other new writers.
Meet our next Budding Writer, Rebecca Sweeney. Currently studying English Literature and Spanish at Edinburgh, Rebecca talks about her passion for romance writing and modern perceptions of ‘Chick-Lit’
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What’s your favourite literary genre to write in?
I mainly write romance. I find it a great way to develop characters. If you’re adding romance into a situation it brings up questions for your characters, it gives them dilemmas and they have to make choices. I especially like writing historical romance because I think the way girls feel when a guy fancies them is always going to stay the same. However, you have translate it into a different kind of society where you couldn’t be like “Oh my god, he fancies me!” You had to be more coy about it. Even today, there are still things girls can and can’t do and things girls can and can’t say. The navigation through all that is why I like doing romance.
Which authors inspired you to start writing?
I don’t know if it was any authors in particular. I always enjoyed writing. But people like Enid Blyton, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, people who that I read when I was younger and who could create other worlds that I wanted to escape into, they were the ones who got me thinking I could create worlds too.
What’s your most important tip to other budding writers?
I’ve always felt that keeping a diary was really useful. I’ve had a diary since I was eleven. Getting yourself into that habit of, not even writing everyday, but whenever you have an idea or see something that affects you in any way, writing it down really helps. It gets you used to expressing yourself outside your own head.
Who is the author, dead or alive, that you would most like to meet?
It’s a very cliché answer but I would love to meet Jane Austen. I would want to ask if she ever got engaged to Tom Lefroy. [Laughs] Nothing important, nothing about the writing – I just want to know if she was ever actually in love. I can’t believe she wasn’t. She writes it so well. At the same time she seems bitter because you never get to see the bit at the end where they go off happily-ever-after. She always stops early and goes ‘Oh, we all know what happens’ and at that point I put the book down and go ‘Well, I don’t and I’d quite like to!’ [More laughing]
A lot of modern day romance is housed in the genre of chick-lit. Many arguments have raged over its literary merits, mainly due to an inability to define it. What would you define the chick-lit genre as?
Chick-lit to me is something easy and it connects with you on quite a fundamental basis. The reasons you like the characters are very simple reasons – they’re good characters, they have good intentions, etc. It doesn’t tend to be overcomplicated. They don’t have groundbreaking emotional problems, but on a basic level they are relatable. Sometimes that’s what you want from a book. You just want to read about someone who is like you or someone you can imagine being, and I’m not talking about reading Games of Thrones and imagining you could be some raging warrior princess. [Laughs] It’s just a normal person like you but living in a more romantised world. It’s a happy way of looking at life and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
In an article published last Feb [link], a Guardian reporter pointed out that intelligent educated women will only admit to reading chick-lit and romance as a “guilty pleasure”. How do you feel about this perception of the genre?
It can be a “guilty pleasure”, I can understand that. But that’s a lot to do with the way you think other people might perceive you. Other people might see it as something that should be a guilty pleasure because if you genuinely enjoy it on a day-to-day basis and you’re willing to admit that, then there’s something wrong with you. But there again that’s more to do with how the entire genre is perceived. However, I’m refuse to be embarrassed about buying those books because it’s what I want to read and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s still a book and you’re still reading.
Some of today’s most popular romance, such as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey have the common charge levelled at them that their protagonists are klutzy, submissive women wholly dependant on a domineering and controlling male love interest. A lot of critics have said that these are singular destructive role models for teenage girls and young women who are their primary audience. What are your feelings on the trend towards such protagonists?
I think with a lot of female characters you go in a circle and you come back to the beginning. I feel like we went through this period where no female character could be reliant on a man – that was too anti-feminist, it just wasn’t what the modern woman was about. This feels like a reaction to that where it’s suddenly allowed to say you need a particular man and want to be looked after by someone else. If there are teenage girls reading Twilight, well at least there’s reading. Young adults don’t read enough anymore. If they find a book that can excite them, then it’s done its job. You shouldn’t take your role models from one thing anyway. If you take some kind of idea of what it means to be a girl from that book and from outside sources as well, then you’re probably going to turn out OK.