When Romance Sends You Running For Cover
The other day, as I was driving my seven and a half year old daughter to swimming, she casually mentioned “Mum, a boy likes me.” Although at times I have an unfortunate tendency to be miles away in my head (yes, even while driving – I know, dangerous!) – thinking about dinner, about my next story, about the tax bill etc., etc. – her casual statement sent my head jolting up, my ears on full alert and my mind backtracking to a few minutes ago, and whether there had been some kind of prelude to this statement. “Ummm…, “I said, clearing my throat. “A boy likes you? What exactly does that mean?” “You know,” my daughter said, exasperated at my obvious ignorance, “He LIKES me.” “But,” she added, “I am not sure if I like him back. So there.”
Of course, I understand perfectly well what it means when a boy “likes” you (or at least when you think he likes you), but you have to understand my bewilderment – after all, we are talking about seven year olds professing to romantic notions. How early do these things happen nowadays? Can I blame Barbie? And isn’t it a well-known fact that boys become interested in girls much later then girls do in them – at a time when its virtually too late, as girls have all moved on to take up archery or something interesting, instead of thinking about romance?
But no, apparently romance is alive and kicking, always has been, always will be. I should know this, as apart from my private encounters with romance (with which I will certainly not be boring anyone here), I wrote a thesis comparing Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre to modern day Mills and Boon novels, with the assertion that they are not so dissimilar. I think I even wrote: “Jayne Eyre is the great-grandmother of all Mills and Boon”. For possibly obvious reasons the thesis turned out to be not entirely successful, but I did prove a certain longevity of forms that are used again and again to write about romance. Ah, that simple formula: girl meets boy, they are smitten, complications arise (they can’t be together!!), then hurdles are overcome, miscommunications cleared up, the hero and heroine grow and learn, and all’s well that ends well.
Sounds simple? Like every man and their dog could write a passionate romance? Not so. In a shameless bid to be part of the billion dollar industry that is the romance genre, I have attempted to replicate the romance formula into a coherent, well-written and interesting narrative, and despite the helpful hints on “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies cheat sheet” (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/writing-a-romance-novel-for-dummies-cheat-sheet.html), I have always ended up with something that makes “50 Shades of Grey” look like a literary masterpiece by comparison.
It is not just that I am fantasizing of easily earned tons of money, there is something about romance that is relevant to writing, no matter what genre or what form you are writing in. The survival of romances, or why people keep writing them and other people keep reading them is also about the fact that there are certain individual accuracies about humanity within romance, or as Anne Bronte (as one of the Bronte sisters surely a hopeless romantic?) stated: “What the world stigmatizes as romantic is often more nearly allied to the truth than is commonly supposed.”
Roll your eyes you may, but there it is: the “T” word. If it is truth in living and writing that we are looking for then maybe there is no escaping romance? Is the way that men and women (and obviously primary school aged girls and boys) relate to each other (and by each other I mean within and across gender divides) inherently related to some kind of expression of truth about who we are, who we are hoping to be or how the world is? And can we, as observers and writers and readers learn anything about truth by asking why romance – in every form and genre – continues to resonate in a most annoyingly invasive way? Do we need romance and passion to lead great lives, write great stories and make fabulous art, as Balzac claimed: “Passion is universal, humanity without it, religion, history and art would be useless.”
I personally always suspected that it was aspects of mental instability that amplified creativity, but then passion and romance have long had the reputation for being some kind of madness, so I may be partially right. I have no idea. But not wanting to be left out of the matrix of human creativity, I will continue to practice my understanding of romance, and its place within the fabric of peoples’ lives.
But before I do that, there is a particular seven-year old boy in my daughter’s school who needs a talking to about his raging hormones, so watch this space.