Writing romance: why is loneliness still a taboo?

When I first started writing fiction, it was with a definite ‘literary’ slant. Although I did get a few short stories published in women’s magazines (a market I would heartily recommend, since they actually pay far better than most literary mags), my first book and collection of short stories fit most comfortably in that most vague of categories, which tends to be a catch all for any fiction that isn’t obviously genre-based or mass market.
However, having mysteriously having failed to win the attention of the Booker judges (I know – outrageous!), when I came to write my next book, I fancied a change. As a big reader of genre fiction, I was frustrated at the direction urban fantasy seemed to be taking post-Twilight (ie, drippy, moping women) and wanted to create the kind of book I, as a fan, wanted to read. The result was Dark Dates, and I was thrilled with the positive reception the book – and its follow ups – got from readers who seemed to feel the same way I did!

So it may seem somewhat perverse to be switching genres again, this time publishing what can only be described as a chick lit book. But in some ways it’s for the same reason. Although I can’t stand those snooty critics who loudly decry romance novels as trash (often with an unpleasant tinge of thinly-veiled sexism – look at all those silly women with their silly books!), I did find I was increasingly annoyed by the genre. There are some really talented women putting out immensely readable novels in this field (and writing something that’s easy to read is actually bloody hard) but I got fed up with the same tropes: of the fact that the action almost exclusively seems to take place in London, Paris or New York and involve women who have (or miraculously obtain) jobs in impossibly glamorous professions being wooed by fantastically rich men. There’s a place for fantasy and wish-fulfillment in fiction, obviously (and I have devoured enough of these books myself to recognise how much fun they can be), but as a pasty Northerner who has never had a remotely glamorous job, I would occasionally like something I can relate to.

There’s also, sometimes, a lack of emotional truth in romance books that disappoints me. It’s fun to envision all single women as floating around like Carrie Bradshaw with a plethora of dates – even if they are ultimately unsuitable – but how many single women really have that experience, especially once you hit your thirties and all your friends are married and staying in at weekends? My favourite writers are the ones who address the reality that being single can, in fact, be extremely lonely and boring and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. It’s not anti-feminist to suggest that a lot of single women don’t actually want to be single, and don’t spend their lives in a blissful, giggling frenzy of shopping and cocktails. One of my favourite rom-coms is While You Were Sleeping, because you get a real sense of how properly lonely Sandra Bullock’s character is, which is surprisingly rare: it’s funny that even in a genre that is all about finding love, it’s still taboo to admit that being without it can make you miserable.

So – that’s what I wrote my book about. I wanted to make it funny, I wanted it to feature hot men (because who can resist a hot man?), but I also wanted to write about life as I knew it could be as a single woman who has almost given up on love, or at least worries sometimes that it has given up on her. A woman dealing with the same daily grind most of us face, and a job she only sort of likes, who won’t wake up one day and find an email inviting her to be a columnist for Vogue. A woman, in short, like you or me. Only with a hotter boyfriend, because there are some tropes I’m not willing to abandon for the sake of realism…

So please do check out Bridesmaid Blues and let me know what you think!

Bridesmaid cover 1

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