Friday, July 15, 2005

Never let it be said

Just occasionally, you may come across comments in the more 'elevated' realms of the literary world which might lead you to believe that those who write in the 'lesser' genres -- crime, science fiction, and romance -- are, somehow or other, people of lesser intelligence, not so well bred, and, frankly, not at all the sort of people you would want to marry your daughter (or son, as the case may be).

Well, t'ain't so. Not in any respect. And the genre writers are certainly not inferior when it comes to IQ and general knowledge. As was proved this week on BBC TV.

Here in the UK we have a TV show (which I think may have been American originally) called University Challenge. On this show, two teams of four players compete against each other in answering questions involving general knowledge.

In fact, the term 'general knowledge' gives no indicatiion of the obscurity, complexity, and overall difficulty of the questions -- questions which are normally, as the title indicates, aimed at some of the brightest students at the nation's top universities.

From time to time, however, the quiz is opened up to teams of professionals. Four lawyers, or four medics, or whatever. This week's round featured a team from the staff of Wisden and a team drawn from the membership of the Romantic Novelists' Association.

Wisden, by the way, is the annual bible of the game of cricket. The staff are thus people with an astonishing memory for obscure facts and statistics. And, naturally, they are all educated chaps. In the ordinary way you might have expected them to outscore the Romantic Novelists without even breaking into a sweat.

Not so!

I saw the last few minutes of this contest myself, and it turned out that the RNA gave the Wisden team a humiliating thumping. Hit them for six, in fact (cricketing allusion). The final score was 245 to 145.

This result did not escape notice in the press (and thanks to Anne Weale for the links). The Times seems to have been astonished:
This was a far cry from the outcome many of us had imagined when the draw was announced. Among the competitors entered for University Challenge: The Professionals, the Romantic Novelists were widely regarded as the fancy dans -- hopeless romantics, indeed. Call that a job? Whereas the Wisden team would be bringing to the table the rangy, all-encompassing worldliness that arises from following cricket more closely than any people on earth follow anything.
On the day, however, the Wisden team was unable to distinguish a Madagascan tomato frog from a green tree frog. The RNA lot, on the other hand, had as one of their team Anne Ashurst, who was the individual winner of another TV quiz, Mastermind.

The Daily Telegraph was also faintly astonished by the Wisden defeat.
The Wisdenites might have expected an easy first-round passage against the Romantic Novelists' Association, but they had reckoned without Anne Ashurst, Mills and Boon author and Mastermind champion of 1997. Dark mutterings of 'Ringer' could also be heard when it emerged that the RNA's Stephen Bowden, a fiend on the buzzer, is not known to have published a novel.
Crying 'foul' you notice. Shocking bad form, in my opinion, if a team doesn't know how to lose gracefully. Listen, Stephen Bowden is a member of the RNA, OK? And that's all it takes to be on the RNA team. You don't have to be Barbara Cartland.

As it happens, Stephen Bowden has a new blog all of his own, and he describes himself as a writer of Regency romps. And he has a picture of himself looking like one of Jane Austen's heroes. So there.


Anonymous said...

Hehe. I love the timing of this, given the fuss over at RWA right now. I get very annoyed by the attempts of literati to make me feel bad for preferring genre novels to mainstream 'lit'. I LIKE my fantastical worlds thanks; if it wasn't for dreaming, exactly where would the human race be right now?

Brenda Coulter said...

I read that news item this morning and sent up a little cheer. Thanks for blogging it.

Why are people so eager to believe that romance novels aren't "real" books and that the people who read and write them must not be overly intelligent? Yeah, somebody is displaying some world-class stupidity here, but it isn't the romance writers.

Kate Allan said...

Not sure what all the fuss is about. Surely it's obvious that romance writers tend to the bluestocking types - not just in terms of general knowledge but because they are capable of undertanding the complexity of human emotion and distilling into it into a story which will pull the interest and heart-strings of the general reader. If that's not a rare skill, I dunno what is. Writing my University disseration was a hundred times easier than writing a publishable romance novel. Spent a few months on my disseration. Second draft handed in, quick spell-check, no problems. Three years and four full manuscripts before I got a romantic novel (which went through 4 major drafts) published.

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