Adventures in romance writing

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Narelle Harris interviewed by John Back

headshot of Narelle Harris
Narelle Harris

Narrelle Harris is a multi-published erotica writer who dabbles in print and online writing across numerous genres. She spoke with Writers Victoria intern John about the inherent connections between all stories and the importance of relationships in her writing.

Tell us a little about yourself as a writer.

I’ve been writing and story telling in general since I was little, but only got published professionally about ten years ago. I write across a range of genres, partly because I read across a range of genres, so I’m inspired by different sorts of things all the time. I like action stories but they’re always themed around friendships and relationships and concepts of redemption – making up for past bad decisions and making new choices that will result in something more positive for everyone.

It’s an unfortunate truth that erotic writing is often dismissed by the general populace. Why do you think that is? Is this perception set to change at all?

I think there are several answers to this. One is that it’s actually quite difficult to write sex scenes well – whether explicit or not. Certainly, any sex scene read aloud to a group always sounds awkward, because the experience is weighted by embarrassment and the unwillingness to be seen to be affected by such a scene, regardless of the individual quality of the writing. When we read to ourselves it’s a different matter. But I’ve come to realise that one of the other reasons might be gender bias. Romance particularly is seen as ‘women’s fiction’ and there’s plenty of academic writing around that explores how stories about relationships are not taken as seriously, even though they are such a fundamental part of every human life.

Perhaps the perception will change, and that’s partly to do with the current boom in romance and erotica. I think the emerging of e-readers means people are reading more of such fiction, on the tram or at lunch, where nobody else can see a lurid cover and judge people on what they’re reading. So more people are trying it, more people are writing it and it’s becoming something that occurs out in the world, and not just where people can’t see and judge a book, and a person, by a cover. Any time something becomes more ‘normalised’ it causes less of a fuss.

Is there a clear difference between erotica and romance? Do you think there should be?

Erotica obviously has a focus on physical intimacy, which may not necessarily be about love. It might just be a good, fun shag! So that’s the main difference. Sex scenes can tell you a lot about relationship or about a character, even if those scenes are part of a love story. So some erotic stories are also romances, but not all. Someone could probably draw a Venn diagram for it.

Romance has been present in every stage of storytelling. What’s so great about romance stories?

They are a universal story, aren’t they? It’s true that not everyone pines for love, but for most of us, relationships of some kind, intimacy of some description, is either something we have or something we long for. We seek connection and friendship, we hope for acceptance and intimacy, whether or not that is sexual intimacy. How can such a universal longing not be the proper domain of fiction, where we can explore that longing, and different permutations of how it might be met? Even stories that don’t focus on the subject have romance as part of the text.

You write across crime, fantasy, science fiction and erotica. Possibly even more genres than this are covered between the lines in your books as well! Are there any common threads in your writing or frameworks which you knowingly always work within?

I was aware after a while that I was interested in notions of redemption, which I mentioned a bit earlier. The ways in which people can change their path, and learn to make better choices. I’m also interested in exploring people’s inherent contradictions, and how our motives may be clear to us yet so obscure to an outsider. Even bad guys don’t think they’re bad – they can all justify their choices in some way, even if the rest of us think they are terrible choices made for selfish reasons. That doesn’t mean the reasons aren’t selfish, of course – but it’s interesting to explore what motivates selfishness. It’s usually pain of some kind.

I realised recently that everything I write is also in some way about family – those that are ours by blood and those that we choose. Blood relationship is no guarantee that someone actually loves you. People are complicated, and families doubly so.

It’s often suggested in the literary sphere that writers should focus on one particular genre or field of writing to hone their craft fully. What is your response to this argument?

Oh boy, am I in trouble.

Seriously, I can see where a focus is much better from a marketing/branding point of view, which is why people who have written in varied genres have often used pen-names to separate the two. But while it can be an issue being clear with readers what to expect from a story, as a writer I just want to write ideas that interest and excite me, and it so happens that for me that happens across a lot of genres. I think my work retains a certain character of its own, in the use of humour, in how I approach storytelling, whether or not I’m writing witches, vampires, spies, rock stars or whatever. Though I’ve separated my erotic romance and the other writing by opting for my initials only there. Other than that, anyone who looks for one kind of writing will find the other. In everything, I’m writing about people and their relationships with the world and each other. Some might focus more on the physical side of that relationship, but I don’t think they’re giant worlds apart.

One final teaser for your upcoming course on How to Avoid the Bad Sex Award. what’s the number one thing for you in writing steamy love scenes that make a reader’s heart rate double and cheeks turn bright red?

I use earthy language of the kind you might use in life; and as much as possible, I try to bring you into the emotional world of the characters. If you can feel, emotionally speaking, what they’re experiencing, perhaps the import of the physical sensations will be equally transporting.

About Narrelle Harris

Narrelle is an erotica writer published as NM Harris with Clan Destine Press. She has also written novels in crime, science fiction and fantasy as Narrelle Harris. Narrelle maintains a general writing blog as well as the romance writing blog, Adventurous Hearts.

About John Back

John Back is a Program Intern (Theatre) at Writers Victoria. He is on Facebook and tweets at @mrjohnaback.