A certain romance

So what’s this romance thing when it’s at home? The term itself used to be applied to every novel from the Middle Ages and only gradually came to refer to a specific genre, just as every single novel not based on truth can logically be called a fantasy. Either way, modern romance is not my thing. That’s not to say that I can’t enjoy a good love story, but I never go seeking out a book where love is the main motivation. I’ve always preferred it to be a corollary of the adventure or the action or whatever. But I do appreciate it. Mainly because I can’t do it myself.

My first encounter with romance was with Ellis Peters’ Cadfael novels, and anyone who’s read them will understand why it never really grabbed me. Reading them again now (I went through the whole series about five years ago), they’re ridiculously simple. Boy meets girl resulting in love at first sight – a love so strong that even an accusation of murder couldn’t render it asunder. All the books were the same, utterly unbelievable in their simplicity.

But almost every adult novel featuring a man and a woman – or not – will have to engage with the realities of sex, attraction and the normal human balance of ego and rejection. It has to be acknowledged, even if it’s only a tiny aspect of the story. And the truth is that I’m really not very good at it. Take Night Shift as an example. Originally I envisioned it with a developing relationship at its core. But as the drafts have rolled, the more I’ve realised that this just doesn’t work. At various points I’ve forced behaviour to make my characters do what they’re bloody well supposed to. This is never a good thing and will never convince. Readers ain’t stupid.

In my original plot outline I had a ‘happy ending’ of a firm romantic connection developing between my protagonist and his partner. Now I see that the characters can’t have this and I’ve left it as a failed affair. This works, I think, because it’s realistic. Very few real people have one single relationship that lasts forever. It’s also become part of the trilogy of which NS is the first novel; Anders’ (subconscious) search for a ‘right’ partner now lasts through the books until a (possible) ‘right’ relationship develops through to the end of the final book.

More than that, though: what I’ve realised is that I need to learn skills that I don’t currently have. I’m just not good at writing romance. And although I’ll never be a writer of ‘relationship’ stories it’s a skill I need to learn. Even Sherlock Holmes has romantic relationships. Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels all include sub-plots of romance. So on my to-do list is to read up on this aspect of writing.

Whenever you realise that you’re not very good at something you have two options: you can run away from that which scares you or you can run towards it. It’s always, always better to do the latter. Horror novelists need to know how to accent the shocks with humour because that will help sharpen the decidedly unfunny bits. Even the most die-hard chick-litterers will benefit from knowing how to write a good fight scene. And I need to know how to describe love and passion and long, lingering kisses that go on for days.

So this learning curve will never end. You can never know too much, will never run out of new skills to develop. And I need to read books I wouldn’t normally choose; and, if anyone out there is planning on running a free seminar in romantic writing in bus-range of my house, book me a slot.

There’s always something more to know and the day I stop learning is the day you lay me six-foot under in the soft soil.

Actually, I hope it’s a day or two before I’m buried. Otherwise something will have gone horribly wrong somewhere along the way.

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