Romance in the 21st Century

Arts - Lecture Room 4 (LR4)
Saturday 20 October 2018 (10:45-11:45)
Photograph of Dr Deborah Longworth

Popular romance fiction today accounts for around 13% of the total adult fiction market with annual sales of over $1billion. Over 80% of the readers of romance fiction are women, and over 70% of them talk about and recommend the romance novels they are reading.

Romance fiction is written largely by women, for women, about women protagonists and about women’s experiences and fantasies. Yet it is a genre that is dismissed by the literary establishment as escapist, anti-feminist, and troubling in its romanticizing of male authority and sexual violence. The twenty-first century has witnessed a significant broadening of the romance genre, and a rapid development in particular of ethnic and multicultural romances, male/male romance, paranormal romance and, following the publishing success of E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, erotic romance, with the UK's leading romance publisher Mills & Boon launching its 'Dare' line in 2018.  

In this panel Dr Deborah Longworth discusses the new developments in 21st-Century romance fiction with Mills and Boon 'Dare' editor Laurie Johnson and author Christy McKellen, Romantic Novelists Association vice-president, author Alison May, author of multi-cultural women's fiction and romance Jeevani Charika/Rhoda Baxter, and M/M author Helen Barrell/Eleanor Harkstead, and asks what is the persistent appeal for women readers in the twenty-first century?

Laurie Johnson is an Associate Editor for Mills & Boon Modern, as well as working with authors across all UK-acquired series: Modern, Romance, Medical, Historical and Dare. Armed with a degree in Creative Writing, she briefly dabbled in journalism but always dreamed of editing books. An avid reader of M&B since her early teens, she’s developed a passion and enthusiasm for sexy contemporary romance. She believes there’s nothing better than a strong, intensely sensual hero who can sweep a reader off their feet, and a heroine who is more than a match for him! Laurie loves working with authors, helping them get the very best out of their manuscripts, and is thrilled to read amazing books for a living.

Alison May is a novelist and short story writer, as well as a University of Birmingham graduate. She writes romantic comedies and emotional fiction. Alison has been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. She is also qualified teacher with a degree in Creative Writing and runs novel writing workshops and courses. Alison is current Vice-Chair of the Romantic Novelists Association. Along with Janet Gover, Alison also writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics as Juliet Bell ( and @JulietBellBooks). You can find out more about Alison herself at or on Twitter @MsAlisonMay.

Rhoda Baxter (aka Jeevani Charika) is British-Sri Lankan. She started off in the South of England and spent her childhood living in places as diverse at Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Micronesia before settling in Yorkshire, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

She writes multi-cultural women's fiction under the name Jeevani Charika and romantic comedies under the name Rhoda Baxter. Her books have been shortlisted for the RoNA awards, the Love Stories awards and the Joan Hessayon award. She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists' Association and the Society of Authors.  

A microbiologist by training, Jeevani loves all things science geeky. She also loves cake, crochet and playing with Lego. You can find out more about her (and get a free book by signing up to her newsletter) on her website.

Formerly a Video and Radio Producer, Christy McKellen now spends her time writing provocative, passionate, seductive romance. When she's not writing, she can be found enjoying life with her husband and three children, walking for pleasure and researching other people's deepest secrets and desires.

Helen Barrell is a librarian at the University of Birmingham and an alumna. Barrell has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Punt PI, has written for several magazines and has given talks at literary festivals and for local and family history groups.

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