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What I learnt from reading and writing romance novels

A few years ago I had a strong desire to leave the life I’d known as a magazine editor and become a romance novelist. It made sense. I have a deeply felt need to bring more love to the world, and I love writing. Why not combine the two?

I spent my teenage years immersed in romance novels. They provided just the antidote to boring school days and tedious exams. Instead of doing homework, I was being romanced by tall, dark, fictional men…that is, until I could hear my mother walking up the hallway to my bedroom. And then, my secret lover was shoved beneath the textbooks while I pretended to studiously examine the theory of how to dissect a frog. Talk about going from princes to frogs!

I was thrown out of biology class for drawing hearts. Love hearts!

I met my husband Paul―a prince, not a frog―when living in New Zealand, and we moved in together the day after our first date. It was ‘I’ve known you forever’ at first sight. We’re happily in love, two decades later. I still get butterflies when I see him smile, or watch him walking towards me. He makes me laugh like no one else can. I can feel the privilege of those oft-said words: till death do us part; and I know that it means our love will carry us through and beyond that day.

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Our love story is a rom-com; I’m the rom, he’s the com. In the roughly ten years I spent as a single woman, I kissed more than a few of those proverbial toads. Often it’s only in hindsight that we see the blessings of poor relationship choices and lost loves. Those toads—every single one of them—showed me what I didn’t want in a relationship. And so I went on kissing toads in the hope that there was a fairytale ending for me. Those toads may have worn different costumes, and had different names or jobs, but in the end a toad is a toad is a toad. Would I ever meet my handsome prince? Perhaps I’d read far too many Mills & Boon romance novels! Nevertheless, they gave me hope.

 

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Despite the heartache, the betrayal, the lack of emotional intelligence or ability to give more openheartedly by some of the above said toads, I never really stopped believing in love. It took me about ten years of kissing toads to realise I wasn’t a toad, and that’s why those relationships didn’t fit right.

I trained to become a marriage celebrant. Even if I wasn’t married, I could at least celebrate other people’s happy unions. As it turned out, by the time I officiated my first ceremony in 1995 I had a beautiful baby girl growing inside me. Yes, I’d found my prince! Or had he found me?

Several years ago, I became rather ill with what I later discovered was adrenal fatigue. I ended up in bed for weeks, so exhausted I could barely move. My daughters, bless them, remembered my teenage addiction to romance novels and scoured the local charity shops buying me dozens of novels from their pocket money. I’d not read romance novels in years. At first, I was somewhat amused that I’d ever found them interesting. After all, aren’t they all the same? That’s what everyone thinks, right? Boy meets girl. Boy is a prat. Girl can’t bear the sight of him. Well, she can really, because, frankly, he’s so hot he’s capable of melting an ice cream from five metres away. Is it lust? Is it…oh my, it’s love. And, darn it, turns out they’ve always loved each other and can’t possibly be apart.

Whatever the storyline, those novels helped me heal. Each day I found myself getting stronger as I read more stories of romance. I’m a fast reader, and generally get through a Mills and Boon novel in two hours.

Then, a few summers ago, I decided to write a romance novel. That summer, getting up before sunrise each day, I wrote five romance novels. Finally, I’d come full circle. All those years of reading about romance, and now I was writing stories about love. But was I?

My novels Mosaic, Bluey’s Café and Sisters of the Silver Moon are not romance novels, but they all feature love stories. What I learnt from writing these novels and writing those five romance manuscripts is that I actually find it hard to follow the formula of ‘boy meets girl and now we have to throw lots of obstacles in their way before they can be together’. Although I have quite the backlog of toads to my name, when I met ‘the one’ our path was smooth. Instant. And in my heart, that is what I wish for other women. I hope that one day they look up and ‘he’ is standing there before them, smiling, and ready to open his heart. I hope he won’t be all ego, arrogance and too macho to communicate his feelings.

 

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The alpha men of romance novels might be drop-dead gorgeous, but I want women to do better than that. I wish for them men who make you come ALIVE with their gorgeousness. You know, those men who aren’t just eye candy but are nourishing soul food. Men who are your equal, and don’t treat you as if you’re anything less than royalty. How do we know if someone is right for us? The best way is to close our eyes. How do they feel? What energy emanates from them? Because, it isn’t their dashing looks which will sustain your relationship through the years, but their kindness, respect, integrity, honesty and ability to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable.

I am grateful for every Mills and Boon book (and other publishers, too) I’ve ever read. And I’m so pleased I never gave up on finding true love. Like childbirth, I don’t believe it has to be a painful experience. I also don’t subscribe to the common beliefs:

Every marriage has its difficult times
Every couple fights.

It’s time people started creating their own love stories. Ones that aren’t perpetuating conflict, drama, power games, disrespect or arrogance. Because, you know what? Love isn’t any of those things. Love is accepting, honest, open, kind, encouraging, supportive, respectful, forgiving, compromising, and fair. Love is loving. And yes, even though most of us are dysfunctional in one way or another, and we all have a needy ‘inner child’, so too are we adults capable of making adult choices. Every moment of our relationship interaction is a choice.

 

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As a writer, I have come to accept that I may never have what it takes to be a romance novelist. I can, however, always write about love. For love, true love, is something I know well.

2 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    Do you know…. I just get washed away in your words, smile from start to finish and am always left feeling inspired and ready to open my heart further.
    I love you my dear dear friend. I am so happy our paths crossed again xxx

    Reply

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