Romantic writers yearn to throw off fluffy image

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A literary genre is about to be retitled. In a corner of bookish Gloucestershire, the Romantic Novelists' Association - home to 600 authors - is planning to ballot members because they believe their name gives the wrong impression of their work.

The association says its authors write "popular general fiction" but the title "romantic" has now come to mean sentimental love stories more appropriate when describing one of Dame Barbara Cartland's 649 books.

Last night, the association's vice-chairman, June Wyndham Davies, said: "Our name is a millstone around our necks. Romanticism used to mean something different. It meant the history of the great 19th-century romantic movement. Now however, most people associate it only with books that are pink and fluffy." She added that the majority of authors in the association object to the name and stress that they write "basic modern fiction, not Mills and Boon".

Dame Barbara said yesterday that despite what people might think of her style of writing, she was still going strong. "All I can say is that I am still selling very well," she said.

The association, founded 30 years ago, boasts a number of best-selling authors among its ranks, including Joanna Trollope - chief exponent of the Aga-saga - Charlotte Bingham and Elizabeth Buchan - who is the association's chairman.

Each year it stages the Romantic Novel of the Year award with a pounds 5,000 first prize, which this year will be presented in London in April. Press invites have already gone out, embossed with the Romantic Novelists' Association title and elaborate crest, so any change of name will, presumably, come after the event.

The association will meet in April to decide on a new name before balloting its members. So far, the only real contender that has been suggested is the rather serious and non-fluffy "Fiction Writers' Association".