Nov 17, 2010

Studying Romance

What I'm reading: "No Place for a Lady" Louise Allen
What I'm Listening to: The Ultimate Classical Collection
What I'm Watching: The first episodes of
What's making me smile: My garden coming to life after winter

I have been hearing intriguing snippets all year about Michelle Douglas’s MPhil and thought I’d use this blog to find out a little more.

Michelle, Can you tell us what your MPhil is about?

It's a creative writing MPhil so there is a creative work, which is my Sweet Romance BACHELOR DAD ON HER DOORSTEP (August 2009). There is also an accompanying exegesis of approximately20,000 words where I'm looking at two of the elements I find most difficult in my own practice -- maintaining a high level of emotional intensity throughout the course of a book, and the credibility of the happy-ever-after ending.

Why did you choose this topic?

I love the genre of Romance, and I wanted to try to uncover what it is that has always drawn me to Romance, and also look at the challenges its conventions present and how other authors have dealt with those challenges. I want to become a better writer, to keep improving and developing, and I thought this might be a good way to pursue that particular objective.

In large part, I returned to study to push myself out of my comfort zone and it has certainly done that! The MPhil has been an enormous amount of work and I've run through the entire gamut of emotions with it from loving it to loathing it, from thinking it's worthwhile, to thinking it's the biggest waste of my time. But I'm really glad I've stuck with it.

What books have you been looking at in the most detail?

I've looked closely at Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), The Grand Sophy (Georgette Heyer) and The Republic of Love (Carol Shields). In my exegesis I'm looking at how each of these authors creates and maintains a high level of emotional intensity and how they deal with the HEA ending that is such a non-negotiable element of Romance.

Can you share an aha moment with us?

Oh yes! When I first started writing the exegesis I found I kept trying to provide a defence of Romance. Now besides the fact that this has already been done (see Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel and Jennifer Crusie's essays) it was also making me sound defensive. The tone was all wrong - and I swear my poor supervisor was tearing her hair out. When I approached the topic as I would say for Realism and just took for granted that Romance (including category romance) was worthy of exploration, then I found the right tone. And as is the case for my Sweet Romances, when I find the right tone then it almost feels as if my biggest hurdle has been cleared.

Now how on earth do you find time to write and do an MPhil?

Umm... not sure? Actually, the key is being organised. For every month of this year, I've had a list of goals and/or work that I've needed to have completed by the end of said month. I've broken each month down into a week-by-week agenda that has had to be met. I've treated procrastination the same way I do writer's block -- if I pretend it doesn't exist then it can't effect me. An approach that's worked for me so far :-). As long as I know what I need to do I can be incredibly disciplined. Promising myself work-free weekends also acts as a spur to help me work hard through the week.

This time factor became a real problem for me early in the year when a couple of family dramas coincided with a third set of revisions for my December release - Christmas At Candlebark Farm. Those revisions made me realise that I actually had to rewrite the book -- from scratch. I rewrote that book in a month and then I had to go back to my month-by-month diary and rework a few dates :-) I find that busyness, though, has its own momentum.

Also, knowing my own process has helped. I really, really wish I was one of those people who could work on more than one large project at once, but I can't. It seems I'm all or nothing on one project at a time. Hence, as my next book is due on my editor's desk at the end of the month, November has been all about writing, editing, and polishing my latest romance. As soon as I send it in I will be turning around and devoting December to my MPhil again.

Thank you Michelle for sharing with us. What a journey you’ve been on. I have to confess, after learning about your MPhil, I had a little reverie about the books I’d like to study. I thought Persuasion would be one and another might be Susan Elizabeth Phillips Breathing Room. Michelle is here to answer any of your questions so feel free to ask away or share the books you wouldn’t mind being tied intimately to, for many many months!


  1. Gosh, Michelle, it sounds fascinating -- but a lot of hard work! I have to say, I'd LOVE to study The Grand Sophy. Such a marvellous book! Actually, maybe I could do an MPhil just on Heyer's books....

    Michelle, I'm totally in awe of your time-management skills! And as for your ability to re-write a book from scratch in a month ... I'm speechless!

    Thanks for a great interview, Zana and Michelle.

  2. Hi Emily,

    I could see you writing a thesis on Heyer! If you ever do, can I read it when it's done?

    Ah, the book in a month. Well... by the time I received the third set of revisions, I knew the characters so well that when I sat down to work out what the story was really about (I mean, you'd have thought by this stage I'd have worked that out) it all fell into place. You'd think I'd hate Christmas at Candlebark Farm by now, but I don't. It may just be one of my favourites of my books (though, I seriously hope my next few books aren't that, um... challenging).

  3. Michelle, I don't think I could face an MPhil - regardless of who I got to study, lol. I have to do a semseter of uni next year and am dreading it (really thought my uni days were over).

    I'm very intrigued to read "Christmas at Candlebark Farm" so will keep an eye out for it next month.

  4. Well, Anita... the MPhil has certainly taken up an enormous amount of time. I think it's one of those things that's like childbirth... you don't really know what you've let yourself in for until it's too late :-)

    Good luck with your uni study next year!

  5. Michelle,
    I can't imagine finding time to do your Masters while writing all those fantastic books. Obviously you're a woman of great discipline as well as talent. Good on you!
    So looking forward to Candlebark Farm next month - great title!

  6. Michelle, I am completely in awe of you and this project you're undertaking! I wish you the very best of luck for getting your MPhil thesis all wrapped up soon! I'm sure it will be fabulous! What happens to it when you've finished? Will it be published?

    As for your re-write in a month... that gasping sound is me hyperventilating at the thought!


  7. Aw, Annie, thanks for the kind words. I hope Candlebark Farm lives up to expectations.

    BTW, when can we expect your next Sheikh story? Wouldn't mind curling up with one this evening :-)

  8. Hi Sharon,

    Believe me, I'm really looking forward to wrapping my MPhil up too. What happens when it's finished? A LOT of champagne and celebrating :-)

    As for gasping in awe -- who did unbelievable revisions whilst balancing on the back of a bike!

  9. Michelle, I *so* want to read your exegesis when you're finished! It sounds fascinating and you're looking at some fabulous books. Though, I've never read The Republic of Love, or anything by Carol Shields. You think it's as good as those others you've listed? Should I be out ordering it?

  10. Hi Michelle --
    Awesome interview! Thanks for sharing more about your studies. It's fascinating.

    And I'm with Emily, your time management skills are inspiring.

  11. Rachel, if you want to read my exegesis when it's all done, you'll be more than welcome to :-) Though, fascinating may not be the word I'd use to describe it (though maybe I'll think it's fabulous once it's done).

    The Republic of Love is an interesting novel. It uses the conventions of romance to explore whether it's possible to have a romance in the 20th century. It abounds with characters, all who propound on what they believe love is, which I really enjoyed. I'd definitely say put it on your tbr pile :-)

  12. Thanks, Anna! And re: my time management skills, believe me, I'm so looking forward to a month when I have nothing to tick off my to-do list (seriously, I'm a sloth at heart).