Romance novels tend to have, shall we say, an “open relationship” with reality. They rely on garish stereotypes of Greek tycoons and single damsels just aching for their escapist fantasy. This is one of the genre’s impossible topics that emergent publishing imprint, Sapphire, hopes to correct.
Sapphire, a fresh new series of romance novels (in the general style of Mills & Boon) targets successful, entrepreneurial black women and simultaneously hopes to rescue romance from the clutches of exaggerated fantasy. While Hollywood notions such as “the one”, “falling in love”, and “happily ever after” still figure very much on its agenda, the series touches on local issues and local culture, creating “accessible, realistic” love novellas for black South African women.
“I think there’s always been a gap in the market,” says Nani Khabako, 22-year old author of the predictably titled Her Forever After. “People have always wanted romance they can identify with.” While a committed reader of Mills & Boon herself, she’s always found its offerings detached from the local experience of romance.
“I think readers will respond to these novels because they’re written for them. They’re home-based. We don’t offer this over-exaggerated idea of love.” Her own story, for example, one of several published by an expanding group of young (predominantly under 30) Sapphire series writers, focuses on an aspirant glossy-magazine journalist who re-encounters an old flame.
Khabako also claims to place an emphasis on strong, independent female leads – part of the move towards writing a more “real” kind of romance. Her writing is about “regular people pursuing a dream”.