For a woman who spends a great deal of time writing books which nestle in the romantic fiction section, I hadn’t really considered myself to be an actual real-life romantic. However, I have come to realise that I’ve never properly considered what the term actually means. It’s a broad one, that’s for sure, often misinterpreted or occasionally used in a derogatory fashion (how rude).
I thought it would therefore be useful to reconsider the term and its relevance to me. You’ll be impressed to learn, reader chums that I have taken the bold step of looking it up in a dictionary (an actual booky one too for I am all about the research). I can report that the definition of a romantic is,
‘.. given to romance, imaginative, emotional, remote from experience, visionary.’
Well okay then. Thanks for that. I think I might be all of the above sometimes and none of them at other times. Where does this leave me?
If I look back to my childhood, I suppose the first foray into romance would have been through fairy tales. I liked fairy tales but I can’t remember loving one more than another. I seem to recall Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood being favourites but being equally enthralled by Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Still, fairy tales aren’t all about romance either. They’re actually darker than the inside of Stephen King’s brain so often inconclusive as a gauge on the romantic scale.
I do remember however, that I preferred bears to dolls, loved reading Tintin and was obsessed with the Indiana Jones films. I loved the action and adventure scenes but I would also watch the kissing at the end through my fingers in an intrigued but disgusted way, not uncommon among ten-year-old girls.
Book-wise I grew up on a diet of Adrian Mole, PG Wodehouse and Jane Austen, a mixed bag you might say but underneath it all, comedy reigned supreme. To my shame, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I read largely what my school told me to read. I forgot how to enjoy books for their own sake. This only began again properly after university when I worked in a bookshop and discovered magical realism.
Instead, comedy was my meat and drink. I watched every episode of Victoria Wood on TV, Fry & Laurie, Blackadder and countless other late-80s and early-90s gems at least fifty times. I knew every line and word. I wanted to join Footlights, be best friends with Emma Thompson, marry Hugh Laurie and live funnily ever after.
Romantic notions had little space in my brain. I liked to make people laugh and met lots of Blackadder and Victoria Wood devotees as a result. Laughter was all I craved.
Then I went to university to study German. I wasn’t over-keen on Goethe, preferring twentieth century history and literature (little romance here) and like a lot of other students, allowed cynicism to reign supreme.
I think it may have been the perfect storm of marriage, children and the films of Richard Curtis that defrosted my frozen cynical heart. Like all bolshy teenage girls, I thought I was tough. I realise now that I’m not. I cry at anything sad relating to children, old people, young people, middle-aged people, basically anything sad. Tell me a sob story and I am a blubbering wreck. On the tick-list of romantic requirements, there’s a big ‘x’ for me next to ‘emotion.’
Since becoming a writer, I have also learnt a great deal about what makes a good story and how best to keep your readers hooked. In my first book, I originally left the ending quite ambiguous. I thought this was edgy and cool. Let the reader decide, let their brain do the work. This was until my really rather clever editor pointed out something very interesting. It went something like this:
‘The reader has invested time in your story. By this stage of the book they are rooting for the main character. You have to give them something satisfying. Not obvious but satisfying. You don’t want them to feel cheated.’
This comment has stayed with me. As writers we’re always trying to think of ways not to state the bleedin’ obvious. We don’t want our readers guessing the ending by the final page of chapter one. However, I also don’t like things to be too signed, sealed and delivered. That can be irritating to the reader too. It’s a tricky balance. So I suppose this shows that I write romance but don’t necessarily stick to the ‘remote from experience’ aspect. I like everything I write to be believable and grounded in reality because these are the kind of books that I enjoy reading.
On a different note, this year I realised that I had begun to let a little more romantic feeling into my life when I watched Poldark. Now I know I’m among a cast of millions here when I confess that I completely gave into this. During one early intense scene between Ross and Demelza, I could almost hear the women (and a few men) around the country bellowing, ‘Just bloody kiss her!’ at the screen. It was Sunday night TV heaven.
Taking all of the above into account, I have reached a landmark conclusion.
I am definitely a romantic realist.
Or a realistic romantic.
I still love Indiana Jones, Blackadder and PG Wodehouse but Richard Curtis, TV weepfests and Ross Poldark all have a place in my heart too.
I call that a pretty good mix or maybe it’s just the perfect ‘happy ever after’.
Either way, it’s all good.