On genre: “Fairytale romance” vs “Fairytale adaptation”

Being called a ‘romance writer’ has been one of the strangest things about publishing ‘Let Down Your Hair’. To my mind, I was writing was a present-day feminist retelling of Rapunzel. Chick lit, maybe, but not romance. If I had to classify the novel myself, I’d call it New Adult coming-of-age.

The plot does follow the romance convention of ‘girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back’, of course. That’s because ‘Let Down Your Hair’ is a retelling of Rapunzel, which also follows that convention. And yes, the novel features a significant romance, but the romance is the catalyst, not the core. The core relationship is the (grand)parent-child relationship between Sage and the formidable Andrea, not the romance between Sage and Ryan. LDYH isn’t the story of a young woman being rescued by a handsome prince, it’s the story of a young woman whose first sexual relationship inspires her to escape her oppressive guardian.

The romance label has come with some unexpected questions from bloggers. Before publication, I’d been expecting to field questions from feminists objecting to the way I’d fed the negative stereotype of the humourless, hairy-legged man-hater. Instead, I was being asked to describe my idea of a perfect romantic evening!

I’ve also found that calling my novel a romance shaped readers’ expectations. These days, the wordfairytale’ feels innocent and sweet, because people associate it with bedtime stories for children and Disney’s animated movies. Putting ‘romance’ and ‘fairytale’ together when promoting ‘Let Down Your Hair’ attracted readers who expected a light-hearted ‘fairytale romance’. What they got was a fairytale adaptation, where the witches are centre-stage, not the prince. It’s also quite dark, because I wasn’t drawing on Disney. What I had in mind was the brutal original fairy tales, which had lots of violence, sex and death. Not the sort of thing you pick up when you’re looking for escapist fun, and it showed in the early reviews. I ended up getting my publisher to change to a grittier blurb.

Given that I plan to write more fairytale retellings, it’s been a useful lesson to learn. It’s also made me wonder whether I could write a fairytale romance. Maybe not: I am a romantic at heart, but one with a dark, subversive streak. Writing a dark, subversive romance feels like more my kind of thing…

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