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The Idea of You Author Robinne Lee on Fanfic and Women’s Art



The Idea of You Author Robinne Lee on Fanfic and Women's Art

In the spring of 2014, after I got down to write the novel that may grow to be The Concept Of You, I didn’t plan on writing one thing that was revolutionary or controversial. I needed to jot down a narrative about Solène Marchand, a lady on the cusp of 40 who rediscovers and redefines herself by an surprising love with a a lot youthful man who occurs to be a world-famous celeb. As somebody who was in that age vary and who ought to have simply been hitting my stride in my skilled life as an actor, I used to be seeing the sudden shift in components accessible to me. The characters had grow to be extra staid, the alternatives fewer and additional between. I used to be studying the arduous method that in Hollywood, after 40, ladies are a lot much less fascinating. The idea was that we ceased to be sexual beings and had been thus much less invaluable. I used to be desirous to show the business—and our tradition at giant—fallacious, in my very own little method.

Shortly after the guide’s publication in 2017, I spotted I used to be additionally bumping up towards one thing else. Some readers had been viewing this story about ageism, sexism, the double commonplace, motherhood, feminine friendship, company, and the darkish aspect of celeb as nothing greater than “fluff.” They targeted on the love story and the intercourse to the exclusion of the opposite pertinent themes of the guide. They known as it a romance. It was not. Romance novels have particular guidelines, and my guide didn’t comply with them. Nevertheless it was labeled and categorized as such.

Was it as a result of it centered on a lady’s love story? As a result of the principle characters, Solène  and Hayes Campbell, two consenting adults, had a wholesome sexual urge for food? Or possibly it was the quilt and the writer’s advertising and marketing marketing campaign? I’ll by no means know. However I began receiving messages from ladies that started with self-conscious and belittling openings like, “This isn’t the kind of guide I usually learn, nevertheless…” and “I didn’t assume I used to be going to love this guide, however…” Then they’d proceed to debate all of the themes I’d got down to grapple with in writing the novel. It was clear that they had made assumptions. They didn’t assume a narrative a few girl’s midlife sexual awakening would possibly include one thing deeper. They couldn’t think about it is likely to be each tantalizing and sophisticated. 

I’m a lover of literary fiction. I admire tales with characters who should not essentially like me, who expose me to new worlds and new methods of considering by elegant prose. I crave tales which can be multilayered and have one thing profound to say. However I additionally get pleasure from tales that entertain, that present levity and occasional escapism. And I’ve at all times tried to jot down in an area encompassing each.

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There’s a scene in The Concept Of You when Hayes, a member of the chart-topping British boy band August Moon, is disparaging his work because the group’s founder, and Solène, a complicated artwork seller, is imploring him to not discredit what he and his bandmates do.

August Moon performs at Coachella within the movie.Courtesy of Prime—© Amazon Content material Companies LLC

“It’s artwork. And it makes folks blissful,” she says. “And that’s an excellent factor. We now have this drawback in our tradition. We take artwork that appeals to ladies—movie, books, music—and we undervalue it. We assume it will probably’t be excessive artwork. Particularly if it’s not darkish and tortured and wailing. And it follows that a lot of that artwork is created by different ladies, and so we undervalue them as nicely. We wrap it up in a fairly pink bundle and resist calling it artwork.” 

That sentiment has resonated with me extra within the years since I wrote this line of dialogue than ever earlier than. I thought of it when Barbie grew to become the most important box-office hit of 2023 and the highest-grossing movie ever directed by a lady, but Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie weren’t nominated for Greatest Director or Greatest Actress, respectively, on the Oscars. I thought of it after I revisited critics’ resistance to Taylor Swift and the dismissal of her fandom for the primary decade of her profession, writing each off as juvenile and unserious. Everyone knows who bought the final snigger there. In April, Swift was named to the Forbes billionaire record, turning into the primary musician whose earnings stem solely from her songs and performances to take action. Not so unserious now, is she?

In no different case does Solène’s description of that sentiment really feel extra private than with the responses to her story. Labeling it as “fluff” or “fanfiction”—notably when accomplished by those that haven’t learn it—is each reductive and dismissive. And this isn’t one thing that occurs to male authors. It’s dangerous sufficient that so many novels with feminine protagonists are labeled ladies’s fiction, whereas these with male protagonists are merely fiction, and that these categorizations exist no matter the truth that fiction readers throughout the board are disproportionately ladies. However assuming a novel with a fictional celeb in a relationship have to be primarily based on an present celeb—on this case, the web has determined, Harry Types—is unimaginative at greatest and sexist at worst.

There are some good, beloved writers of fanfic on the market, however fanfiction is simply not what I do. Hayes Campbell, like Solène Marchand and the myriad different characters on this guide, was impressed partially by folks I’ve encountered and by artwork I’ve consumed, and he got here to life because of a wholesome dose of my creativeness. It’s how most writers I do know, no matter gender, create their characters and their worlds.

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My case is only one symptom of the bigger illness within the broader literary world, the place comparable works by men and women are given inequitable weight. “First-person narrative by males continues to be printed and reviewed as extra severe and will get much more cash and protection,” writer and tutorial Kate Zambreno stated in a current New York Occasions interview. “It’s additionally often not dismissed as merely autofiction or memoir, as an alternative learn as literature encompassing psychogeography, philosophy, artwork criticism. Even when a lady is doing precisely that, she’s often nonetheless marketed as merely writing a lady’s expertise or, worse, a mother memoir, if she has kids.”

What’s it about artwork made by ladies and marketed towards ladies that makes us view it as lower than—that makes us assume they’ll’t be complicated and necessary? We don’t wrap male writers’ books in pink and inform readers they’re nice for the seaside. We don’t frown upon shoppers of male fiction as juvenile. We don’t cut back their writing to fanfiction and fix a celeb’s identify for clickbait. Backside line: we don’t undervalue them and their work. 

I by no means got down to write a novel that may spark this sort of debate. Hayes and Solène’s story has made readers take into consideration their company and ambition, about love and ageing and the that means of human connection—and it’s made them snigger, cry, wallow, and sigh within the course of. Maybe it’s artwork, in spite of everything.

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