Bonkbuster! Sex and Popular Romance from the 1950s to the Present Day

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Jo Parsons (Falmouth University)



Sex and Popular Romance from the 1950s to the Present Day

Edited by Dr Jo Parsons (Falmouth University)


The Bonkbuster is a baggy and pejorative term which has been applied to a wide ranging and diverse literary form. These texts, written mostly, but not exclusively, by women have suffered from critical neglect due to sexism and their popularity, as well as elitist attitudes towards what constitutes literature.


While the Bonkbuster is considered to be a 1980s phenomenon, this is not the case as its roots lie in much earlier fiction, such as Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place (1956), Jacqueline Susan’s Valley of the Dolls (1966), Harold Robbins’ early works, 1960s Gothic Romance, and Pulp paperbacks. In addition, many of the authors most associated with this form wrote much later than expected: Judith Krantz wrote until 1998, Jackie Collins until her death in 2015, Jilly Cooper’s latest novel Tackle! will be published in November and an adaptation of Rivals is slated to appear on our screens next year. Shirley Conran is still active in empowering women through her social entrepreneurship, a mission which previously involved using her novel Lace (1982)as mechanism to educate women about sex, as well as through her non-fiction guides such as Down with Superwoman (1990). These authors were revolutionary in many ways. However, many names of popular Bonkbuster writers have since been almost forgotten, such as those of Elizabeth Gage, Meredith Rich, and Judith Gould.


The Bonkbuster is certainly alive today in various forms and to various extents, such as in writing by Melanie Blake, E.L. James, Fiona Walker, and Lesley Lokko. The Lady Boss documentary about Jackie Collins’s life and works was released in 2021 to much acclaim, and Simon and Shuster are in the process of reissuing all of Jackie Collins’ novels with new forewords written by a variety of popular authors and figures who examine her writing with fresh 21st century eyes.


This edited collection seeks to fill a significant gap in scholarship in its consideration of the form, questioning the ways in which it pushed, and reinforced, contemporary boundaries. The Bonkbuster was instrumental in and responded to the ‘sexual revolution’ as well as many other contemporary cultural moments, such as the AIDS crisis and the pornography wars. The Bonkbuster depicted celebrity culture; the world of organised, and not so organised, crime; female power and aspiration, and so on, and can thus provide an exciting and productive lens through which to examine many contemporary attitudes and events.


This edited collection seeks a wide range of responses to the Bonkbuster in order to interrogate its prehistory and its afterlives, as well as its contemporary cultural importance. It will interrogate the contested and pejorative nature of the term ‘Bonkbuster’, asking whether it is possible to reclaim the title. It will consider how the Bonkbuster has transformed the Romance and Crime Fiction genres, and how it sits within the Romance trajectory more generally. This edited collection will provide an urgent intervention and examination of popular fiction from the 1950s to the present day. It will broaden our critical understanding of this period as well as fill a substantial gap in scholarship.


Suggested topics on the Bonkbuster and its earlier and later forms include, but are not limited to,

  • Sex, sexualities, and desire
  • Popular culture
  • Violence, including domestic abuse
  • Race
  • Feminism and the feminist backlash
  • Celebrity culture
  • Place
  • The pornography wars
  • The AIDS crisis
  • Sex education/manuals
  • Crime Fiction/Thrillers
  • Romance/Saga
  • Chick Lit
  • Soap Operas
  • Film and TV adaptations
  • Print, periodical, and material culture


This edited collection is for the University of Wales Press.


Please submit 500 word abstracts and a brief biography for consideration to Jo Parsons (Falmouth University) by 15th December 2023. Completed essays are expected to be no more than 7500 words and will be due 1st June 2024.