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True-life Love Is In The Air

It’s February, the month of lurrve. Not only does St Valentine’s Day fall in the middle but after torturing ourselves with all those earnest, heartfelt and well-meaning resolutions in January, February should be the time to love ourselves better again. Love has been on my mind a lot lately because I’m writing my latest novel – Goodnight, Beautiful – and it’s about love in all its forms: the love we have for ourfriends, the love we have for our children, the love we have for our families, the love we have for ourselves and, of course, romantic love. When I write about a subject, I become immersed in it to the point of obsession – it makes for a better story, believe me. I could go on for hours about love, but, seeing as it’s February, let’s talk about romantic love.

Unsurprisingly, pain and sorrow and heartbreak seem to be essential elements in any good love story. I’d find it incredibly boring to read about two people who meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. It seems, from the amount of love stories out there we like our fictional lovers to suffer. And suffer. . . and suffer. . . and then suffer some more. They have to earn love and if they come out the other side of it relatively unscathed, then they deserve to live happily ever after. All pretty harsh, if you think about it: few of us want to go through those types of traumas, trials and tribulations to find love but our in the imaginary world? Pile on the agony.

I’ve always loved fictional agony: growing up, I was obsessed with Judy Blume books – most of them were about teens who were going through puberty and discovering the joys and pains of love for the first time. I used to date vicariously through the Sweet Valley High books (I was like goody-two-shoes Elizabeth); to find out about what went on between women and men in the bedroom I turned to the great Jackie Collins. And, of course, I learnt everything there was to know about forbidden love from Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I devoured all these books because despite the underlying theme of devotion there was conflict. The stuff to test a person’s mettle; to make them prove that at the end of it, their hearts were pure and worthy of love discover this.

I don’t tend to put my heroines or heroes through too much trauma – although they may disagree – but when it comes to love I do challenge them. In The Cupid Effect, Ceri, who has always believed in the power of love, discovers that she can’t find it even though she inspires others to follow their hearts. In The Chocolate Run, Amber is torn between a fantastic, loving relationship with a man who can not be trusted to be faithful and keeping her heart safe by staying single. In My Best Friend’s Girl, Kamryn is forced to choose between someone who keeps her at arms’ length and her first real love who broke her heart. And in Marshmallows For Breakfast, Kendra isn’t sure if she is capable of feeling love for anyone after her troubled past. These snapshots of how I’ve written about love remind me how passionate I am about writing about love.

Actually, I’m passionate about writing about true-life love. The type that is based firmly in reality: where good people do cheat; where main characters aren’t always forgiven for their transgressions; where perfect couples do split up and stay apart; and where a loved-up person’s affections aren’t automatically returned. True-life love challenges my characters and makes them better people for it – but they do know they have to keep working at their relationships to keep their ever after happy.

You see, I don’t believe that in real life or in fiction that romantic love alone can and will conquer all. For a relationship to work you need love – as well as tolerance, acceptance, patience, self-belief, and the willingness to work at it. (And that’s just a basic list.) You may be passionate about someone but do you care about them in ordinary, everyday moments? They may say, ‘I love you’ but do they show it in small, seemingly insignificant ways such as listening to you? Clinging to the idea that romantic love alone will magically transform your life or will be enough to see you through a rough patch, is more than likely to lead to disappointment – and heartache.

Basically, I believe that whilst romantic love is truly a many-splendoured thing, it isn’t everything. And those who think it is, may want to start stocking up on rat poison. . .

© Dorothy Koomson 2008

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