This first appeared in Woman’s Weekly Fiction in 2010. Can’t say much has changed…. 🙂
Happy Valentine’s Day!
You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with open arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction as a hearts and flowers sort of woman; floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing heart-shaped salmon delights and chocolate coated strawberries in champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of lavish floral gifts. Not in this house.
My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life.
It would be fair to say that in the last twenty years I have generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, some roses to boot. This is largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study.
We never go out to dinner on February 14th – all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share – and a general air of relief descends when the day’s over and we can go back to shouting as usual.
A quick straw poll among my friends suggests we are not unique. In novels, men may be tall, dark, handsome and capable of producing tickets for a romantic break in Paris without being asked but in reality, in my experience, they are more likely to shriek “How much?” and remind you that there’s an important league match that weekend and the only thing they’ll be holding close is the remote control.
The myth continues because, even if we find the whole “Bunnykins” thing pretty cringey ourselves, we live in hope that our fictional heroes who have the florist on speed-dial and understand about candlelight and Belgian chocolate and the element of surprise are out there somewhere. Even if the evidence to the contrary – “they double the price on Valentines Day / I can’t see what I’m eating / Won’t that make you fat? / You get it and put it on my credit card” – is overwhelming. And that, dear reader, concludes my entire fount of knowledge on things romantic.
I wish someone would believe me. But no, it is assumed if I write romantic comedy I must be something of an authority the matter of lurve. Over the years a variety of magazine editors, radio producers and fellow hacks doing the Ten Top Tips trick when there’s nothing else to say, have called upon me to dispense wisdom on everything from handling a first date to spicing up one’s marriage to how to cope when he lives a continent away (sounds ideal to me).
I once choked on air having just heard myself introduced by one regional radio station (clearly desperate to fill five minutes before the travel news) as a “relationships expert” and finding I was being called upon to offer advice to Helen who felt Kevin no longer loved her, when I’d thought I was just there to plug a novel. “A special night out,” I suggested vaguely, trawling my memory for every cliché from every agony aunt page I’d ever read. “A quiet night in when you can really talk… Communication is so important,” I simpered, getting into my stride, even though I knew that Kevin, as previously discussed, would rather watch the boxing and will be aghast when Helen serves up chicken a la mode, in the dark, instead.
But there are worse things to be asked to do and it’s just happened again. Another call from the well-meaning wanting me to give a workshop. “We’ve got someone to do Crime,” she says brightly, “and a very nice gentlemen in charge of Sci Fi. Perhaps you can give us a few words on Romance and Erotica….” I most certainly can’t.
The only time I ever attempted to write anything erotic, the magazine in question gave up on my descriptions of passion and wrote the end in themselves. I can’t do body parts, I can’t do moaning and writhing, I feel saying silly saying “nipple” (yes I know I said it earlier but that was a pudding) and even in my raunchiest novel where every single character is at it in some form or other, I still flinch from the squelchy bits.
I try to make this sound intelligent. “I tend to believe less is more,” I offer. “The brain is the most potent of the sexual organs and arousal is often mental not physical. I see nothing wrong in closing the bedroom door and leaving much to the imagination.” “Perhaps just the romance then…” she says.
I am planning my opening address.
A good hero should be tall and handsome, kind and sensitive, and given to unexpected acts of generosity in the city break and floral departments.
Even if you have to write it down for him first…