The Jude Knight Manifesto

The classic bodice ripper cover shows the woman’s ambivalence about the situation she has landed in. Interestingly, some claim that these covers, whose artists were the same comic artists who had been creating superhero magazines, were actually designed to appeal to male booksellers.

At the day job this week, we had a workshop on personal branding, and did a number of exercises to find the authentic self we wanted to project when dealing with clients.

I had no trouble defining my essence: the core values and passions that define me. I’ve spent the past four years thinking about them as I created the brand for Jude Knight. They don’t change between Jude Knight the storyteller and Judy Knighton the plain English business consultant, because they are the real me.

I’m a storyteller with an abiding compassion for people and a deep desire to contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

This post results from mulling over the workshop and also several blogs and articles I’ve read this week.

Sherry Thomas, in an interview, talked about romance writing in the current political environment. She has received some flak for her views from people who seem to think she is planning to turn her novels into a political rant, but I didn’t take it that way.

To me, it seems inevitable that one’s values and attitudes will influence the themes we write about, the characters we glorify, and what we consider to be happy endings. Yes, and whether wealth and power are shown as corrupting or as virtuous, which is a very strong political statement indeed.

My values are informed by my life experiences and my Catholic faith, and I try to live by them in all I say and do. My books will always reward a passion for justice and community, and ultimately punish greed and selfishness. (Which life doesn’t always do, at least the bit of it we see, so I should, because in the world I create, I can.)

Laurie Penny, in the Unforgiving Minute, has produced one of the best #metoo articles I’ve read (and I’ve read lots). She challenges men to stop making the current post-Weinstein world about them and their desire to get laid.

In a world where men take their view of good sex from Hugh Hefner and women suffer the consequences, I firmly believe that writing bodice rippers is a degenerate act. I’m defining the term as a book set in the past, with a young, virginal heroine and a more powerful (because older, richer, or simply more brutal) hero who forces her to have non-consensual sex until they fall in love and live happily ever after. Rapist-turned-true-hero, and no-doesn’t-mean-no. For a man to write such a book is an act of violence. For a woman to do so is treachery.

My books will reward relationships founded on mutual respect. If that’s not where my couple start out, it is where they will end up. The most rakish of my heroes will need to face the emptiness in their souls where intimacy should be, and so will the heroine I have in mind for a series I’m involved with in 2019.

I strongly believe that the romance genre is feminist, in the sense that it is a genre in which women are subjects, not objects; in which women’s concerns and women’s actions are centre stage;  in which women’s sexual pleasure is based on female, not male experience.

Not all romances are feminist. I’ve dnfed* some shocking pieces of adolescent male fantasy masquerading as romance erotica, and I’ve read many stories with heroes who are controlling despots with heroines who like that in a man.

My stories won’t always have strong heroines. They won’t always have heroes who, at the beginning of the story, honour the identity of their love interest and partner with them. But that’s always going to be my goal: a true abiding love based on mutual understanding and respect.

If I am to be true to myself, I can do no other.

(More on the covers that gave a genre a bad name here and here.)

*dnf = do not finish

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10 thoughts on “The Jude Knight Manifesto

  1. I haven’t mentioned contemporary and young adult stories, since I write Historical. But I’ve seen some with the same tropes of male domination and female submission are used; the same myths that rapists act out of love and that women’s no’s are conditional and should be overcome. My comments above about violence and treachery apply. A plague on all their houses.

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