The Melbourne Writers Festival is not the most typical setting for a love story, but this, dear readers, was where mine would begin.
Here I was, a young woman in the big, bright city, in search of a way through the bustling Federation Square crowds, headed to the ACMI so that I could review the session ‘Reader, I Married Him’ for the Reviewer for a Day project. Little did I know I would leave that vent with a smile on my face and a flutter in my heart.
It all began when I walked into the dark, unfamiliar auditorium, and found my place among a sea of attentive faces gazing up at the stage waiting for moderator, editor, and romance genre expert Kate Cuthbert to introduce our three best-selling author panellists: Fiona McIntosh, Sarah Mayberry, and Shobhaa De.
The first stirrings of passion began as they started tackling a wide breadth of interesting and engaging topics such as arranged marriages, women’s rights, sexuality, marriage equality, the resurgence of interest in marriage (Mayberry comparing that resurgence to “finding a lovely old gravy boat”), and many more.
I found myself relishing their individual takes on what makes for exciting narrative; McIntosh revealed her penchant for a good love triangle, particularly when the heroine is torn between her husband and a “gorgeous rampaging Colin Firth” type who comes along and causes a stir.
Images of said “rampaging Colin Firth” filled my mind and it became crystal clear that I would enjoy this panel immensely. Here were four strong, witty and intelligent women who weren’t afraid to talk about important issues in a considered and insightful way while not forgetting all the fun, silly, sexy things that women (and men) love. Women after my own heart.
Indeed female characters who strive to enjoy their lives to the fullest regardless of societal pressures seemed to be the connecting theme between all four writers’ work. De spoke of challenging the portrayal of traditional marriage as a form of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, while McIntosh believed that the characters in her historical novels used their marriages to become more powerful on their own terms.
By the time Mayberry opined that we needed more love in the world and less violence, and McIntosh told us to remember that we were goddesses, my enjoyment of the panel had turned into a full-blown love affair.
As I made my way out of the auditorium into the midday sun to meet up with my boyfriend (who would surely now whisk me away, as I truly deserved, to a love nest in the south of France like the soldier in one of McIntosh’s novels), I had a smile on my face and spring in my step.
While we ordered cannoli and drank tea with our friends in a cafe overlooking a sunny park instead, I let my mind wonder over the joys of my brief afternoon affair.
Would we ever meet in the same place again? Would the one I was with know I was thinking of my time away? Did it matter that I had forgotten to put the dishwasher on?
Safe to say, dear readers, I ate the cannoli.