#AtTheCliffFace: Musings of a Romance Academic

PHS editor, Ali Williams, is taking us on her journey towards completing a PhD about realism in the 21st century Harlequin Mills & Boon novel.

When I originally came up with the concept for this column, the plan was to focus on my ever meandering journey towards a completed category romance manuscript, but since then I’ve had some rather exciting developments in my life…

This column will now be focused on my journey towards completing my PhD! The current plan is to start in October, and do it part-time for six years, but the most exciting part is my topic:

I’m planning on writing a 50 thousand word thesis on realism in category romance, and writing a 50 thousand category romance novel of my own to accompany it. That’s 100 thousand words of category romance, realism and what amounts to aca-fandom (where academics write about something they love).

But it’s quite a long process and so I’ve been asked by my prospective supervisor (!!) to work on developing my PhD Proposal and Bibliography whilst she’s in America, and then, when she’s back in six weeks, we’re going to sit down and go through it all together.

So whilst on holiday in Tenerife last week, I took the opportunity to get studying with gusto!

I brought Catherine M. Roach’s book Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (she’s both a Gender and Culture Studies professor and Catherine LaRoche, historical romance author), and got stuck in to reading and making notes.

It’s a fascinating book which marries traditional academic discourse with new and exciting approaches to the genre, including Catherine the academic interviewing Catherine the romance author – which is laugh out loud funny – and a frank engagement with aca-fandom.

I’m the kind of person who likes sitting and making notes in a special notebook, so I don’t have to go hunting for quotes and references at a later date, and it’ll help me as I start compiling a bibliography. And I’m pretty visual, so using different colours to indicate different subject notes (bibliography entries, quotes, personal notes etc) means I’m not overwhelmed by huge chunks of text without knowing what it refers to. Plus, it’s really pretty to look at!

I spent a couple of hours each day, working through the Roach book, and a couple of other JPRS (Journal of Popular Romance Studies) essays, making notes and making sure I was able to contextualize my own research.

I think what’s really important to note, however, is the fact I am utterly passionate about this research. It infuriates me that romance – and category romance in particular – ‘remains the most denigrated form of fiction’ (Deborah Philips, Women’s Fiction: From 1945 to Today, p. 23). I think one way of combating this is for serious academic research to be undertaken.

I intend to analyse the way in which category romance interweaves realism with its narrative and in doing so, hope to challenge people’s preconceptions about what the genre does and its merit.

But why #AtTheCliffFace?

I'm setting off on a journey that's very much like those thrill-seekers who jump off cliffs into the sea: it's scary, exhilarating, and - if I'm lucky - I'll get to join others who have already taken the plunge...

How do you feel about realism and category romance? Share your #RealismInCategoryRomance recommendations with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Ali Williams is an all round romance nerd, who splits her time between working on a her PhD proposal, quilting and trying every restaurant in the West Sussex area. For more information about her and her writing project, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

#AliWIlliams #PhD #PopularRomanceStudies #CatherineMRoach #CatherineLaRoche #DeborahPhlips #March2017 #AtTheCliffFace

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