Have all romance writers led wildly romantic lives? Have they loved and lost, had passionate affairs, endured multiple marriages and nursed broken hearts? Possibly – but not necessarily. You don’t have to have lived through heartbreak to imagine its devastating effects, or have found the love of your life to be able to write touchingly about happy ever afters. If writers had to possess first-hand experience of everything in their novels, most crime authors would be locked up!
But romantic plot-lines, while inspired and driven by imagination, still need to be authentic. Readers can spot a fake instantly, and many an author has come unstuck trying to turn their hand to the romantic genre, believing (mistakenly) that it is easy to churn out novel after novel following a prescriptive formula. Today’s contemporary romances sparkle with originality – to stand out from the crowd you need to apply the rigours of research to your writing to make sure the romance rings true.
So where can you look for research material into matters of the heart? Apart from the very young, most of us have a failed love affair or two in our dark and murky pasts. In fact, most romance writers I know were drawn to the genre in the first place by a need – conscious or otherwise – to right the wrongs of the past, to work out their demons on the page. For romance to do its job – which is to give the reader a powerfully emotional experience – it needs to go deep. A writer must plumb the depths of their own experience to find the emotions and unearth the words that will best describe them.
This isn’t an easy task. When writing is most painful is when it is closest to the writer’s most challenging memories. I recently cut an entire subplot in my latest novel, the sequel to Can’t Live Without, which saw one of the characters suffering from post-natal depression. While I felt – and still feel – this is an important topic which is often overlooked in ‘mum’ fiction, I was too close to the subject to be able to write objectively. My daughter is only four, and I have suffered from PND myself – while I might be the perfect writer to bring this experience to life one day, that day has not yet arrived.
One of the wonderful things about writing romance is that we can bring the good and the bad experiences from our past to life, and then re-write them – often a very cathartic process! I have written about a character based on a man who hurt me quite badly, and then had him lose everything and become a figure of ridicule at the end. Oh, that felt good! Before I met my husband, as a single woman in her thirties despairing of ever meeting ‘the one’ I invented Paul Smart, the hero of Can’t Live Without, who has proved a massive hit with readers. Only recently a reviewer said she ‘loved Paul and wished she could meet him in real life.’ Could I have brought to life so vividly this fantastic romantic lead if I hadn’t known how it felt to be single and lonely? If you delve deep enough there are emotions buried that, while painful, may just be the seed of the perfect romance – should you be brave enough to try.
A final thought: In my early thirties, insecure and listening to my biological clock ticking away, I had a boyfriend say to me: ‘If you were anything special you’d have been snapped up by now.’ This was a defining moment in my life (he became an ex very quickly after), and is certainly wonderful material for a character in a novel! He will certainly suffer at my author’s hand one day. That’s what I call putting the ‘ex’ into experience.
Can't Live Without
How does it feel to lose everything you own?
Stella Hill is proud of the home she's created for herself and her daughter. She's worked hard to buy the very best of everything ... But when she wakes one morning to find her kitchen on fire, Stella knows her life will never be the same again.
At least she has Paul to lean on: Paul Smart, owner of Smart Homes, confirmed bachelor and unknowing recipient of a schoolgirl crush Stella never quite got over ... When the charismatic John Dean turns up after sixteen years, Stella is determined not to fall for him again. Because now her heart belongs elsewhere. Or does it?
With a boss she's half in love with, a teenage daughter about to go seriously off the rails, a spendaholic mother, and a house to rebuild, Stella's problems are only just beginning.
Can Stella put her life - and her home - back together again? And will she ever realise just what it is she really can't live without?
Joanne Phillips lives in rural Shropshire, England, with her husband and daughter. Since leaving school she’s had an eclectic career, working as a hairdresser, an air hostess and a librarian. She now writes full time.
Soon to be released on Valentine's Day 2013 next year is her latest book - The Family Trap.