Friday, February 18, 2011

A Date WIth Kate - What is Romance Anyway?

You can’t have missed it – all those red hearts and red roses all over the place. Cards, balloons and rows and rows of men rushing into the supermarkets to buy a card, a cheap bunch of flowers and a stuffed bear that says ‘I love you’ at the last minute because they’d forgotten. And nothing says ‘you mean the world to me ‘ like a stuffed teddy bear clutching a big red heart. I even saw some guys buying up the reduced price cards/toys/flowers on Tuesday – how ‘romantic’ is that?

Cynical? Moi? A romance writer?

No – the truth is that I’m the exact opposite of cynical. I believe in romance, in love and caring – and showing it. I just don’t like the commercialism of the day that someone on Eastenders just described as ‘the most romantic night of the year.’ Hmm. Sorry, but what’s romantic about wining, dining, flower and card buying because the cards manufacturers, rose growers , chocolate manufacturers all say you should? What about the rest of the days of the year? The special ones – for you - for him (who ever ‘he’ is)? The ones that have real meaning and importance.

This had me wondering - why then would anyone choose February 14th as the date to celebrate love, passion and all things romantic? A day in a cold, wet usually pretty miserable month where beauty is hard to find, the glow and excitement of Christmas and New Year is well behind us, red roses cost a fortune, and it takes an effort to even think of trying to be romantic.

Or perhaps that's the point? Perhaps it's the fact that because it's hard to make an effort that's what makes it more romantic. It's the effort, the trying, the doing something out of routine, something a little different and a bit special that makes Valentine's Day - or indeed any day - really romantic.

Because isn't that what romance is really all about? It certainly is in the books I write. People - people who don't know the truth - tend to think of romance novels as being about soft and pretty, chocolate box, kittens and flowers sort of love. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with girl, they marry and live happily ever after. It's soppy, cheesy, a 'soft'.

Not the books I write. I write about people who have real problems in their relationship. People who have reason to dislike, even to hate each other. Reason to believe the worst of someone, even as they are acknowledging that this person is really affecting them like no other person ever has in all their life. People who have to fight - with their hero or heroine, with their mistaken beliefs, and, ultimately, with themselves to reach a real, honest, deep and long-lasting love. It's an adult affair, not boy meets girl, not hearts and flowers, not pretty pink cards easily picked up in the local supermarket.

After all, St Valentine himself didn't have things easy - St. Valentine was a Priest, martyred in 269 at Rome apparently beaten with clubs and then beheaded, and was buried on the Flaminian Way. He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer's daughter, signing it, "From your Valentine."

So perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's because February is such a dark, gloomy, apparently unromantic month that we celebrate romantic love in the middle of it. And Valentine's Day is really like love and romance itself isn't it? Just when everything is dark and gloomy and bleak, we have a day that reminds us to make an effort for the person we love. To show them, tell them how we feel. It may be cold and wet but with the one you love you can curl up safe and sheltered and let love keep you warm

Because for me it’s making that effort that matters. It’s thinking about the other person and doing something for them. I wouldn’t want red roses – I don’t like them. I wouldn’t want chocolates – I struggle enough with my weight without them. I don’t really want a mass produced card. Personally I love the story in the paper about the couple who have recycled the same Valentine card every year for the 69 years they have been together because – as Harry, the husband says - ‘I knew Doris was the one for me the moment I met her. It was a heck of a night during the Blitz, but at least it meant we met each other. I gave her the Valentine’s card then and she is still my Valentine now.’

I asked several other romance writers what their definition of romance is – here are their answers

Anne McAllister whose book Hired by Her Husband is out now in Presents said:

It's one of those things, like pornography, that I would say I know it when I see it. If we call it "hearts and flowers" what do we really mean? It's not just gifts in honor of Valentine's Day or someone's birthday -- though that can be a part of it.

It's the attitude behind that behavior. Behaving romantically is focusing on the other person, thinking of things -- big or small -- that matter to that person and finding a way to make them happen.

It involves both joy in the moment and a promise for the future. Romance isn't a dead end. It doesn't look to "get something out of" the relationship, but to work at enhancing the potential for growth in the attachment between two people. It is a way of bringing hope to a relationship.

Liz Fielding who has Tempted by Trouble, her first book in the new RIVA series coming out in June sent this:

What is romance anyway? Romance is the fluffy stuff, the red roses, champagne, wooing. Sitting across the table staring into one another's eyes. Love is when two people turn to face the same way, each ready with a steadying hand to the back, aware that life isn't all moonlight and roses but mostly washing up and making the bed rather than lying on it. And maybe romance is still wanting to do that forty years later.

From Michelle Reid who has her new Modern Romance After Their Vows coming out in April  and admits she hates the word Romance (she very wisely calls our books Relationship stories, not Romance books.)

Hm, I suppose for me (the romantic fiction writer) romance is The Love Affair. It begins with that thrilling moment when two people connect emotionally followed by the excitement of coming together. The desire, the heat, the overwhelming passion, the wild – wild optimism that tells you this could be the one all muddled up by scary uncertainties you want to just go away.

Another RIVA writer Heidi Rice offered this

What does Romance mean to me? Gosh, that's such a huge question! I think of it as that wonderfully warm, fuzzy glow, that sizzle of excitement and anticipation you get when dream touches reality...

Heidi’s first bona fide Riva is Cupcakes and Killer Heels, which is a linked book to Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger, and is out in shops in May.

And finally, Abby Green whose book Bride in A Gilded Cage is shortlisted for the RNA Love Story of the Year Award – so she should know about romance – wrote this:

I think romance is...a belief in magic and fate. It's a belief that the world isn't such a cynical place after all. It's also about vulnerability, the cracking open of two people's tough or not so tough veneers to the beating and very human hearts underneath. Romance is the fairytale that exists all around us every day when two people meet and connect and find that magic in each other...

Abby has Secrets of The Oasis out in Modern Romance and In Christophides’ Keeping in Presents .

And me? I think they’re all right because I’ll go back to what I think is really romantic – thinking about the other person as an individual and caring for them in that way - finding what really matters to them and trying to make sure they have that in their lives. It’s all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s what I try to put in my books too.

Or, in my case, the BM remembering the 1940s Lucite brooch I looked at and loved when the shop was closed – and going back to fetch it for me not because it was Valentine’s Day but because I loved it. Nice one BM – that’s romance. 

What about you? What does romanc mean to you - in a book or in real life?

Kate Walker's latest Presents title - The Good Greek Wife? - was out in Presents Extra in October and is still available now on Amazon, eHarlequin etc. her next Presents Extra title is The Proud Wife (her editor has been on a 'title with Wife in it kick!) is out in March in the UK and April in America.
Her latest book, part of the The Powerful and the Pure mini series - The Return of The Stranger - has just been scheduled for September 2011.
You can get all Kate's news and read the latest updates over on her web site or her blog.


  1. To me "romance" is a perfect moment between two imperfect people. It's the part of a book you read over and over again or the part of the movie you watch again to get a little shiver of happiness. It's a moment in your own life that you replay over again or love to tell people. It's not something that lasts in the same state forever or what's meant to last. But it is wonderful and a "romance moment" can always happen again even in a relationship of longstanding!
    To me that's different than "love." Love is much more about acceptance and helping one another when life is not perfect or romantic :-)
    I feel like in a good relationship novel you get both. The romantic moments that make you sigh and the evidence by the end that this couple will be strong enough to help each other when romance isn't enough.
    This is already long, but I can't pass up a chance to use one of my favorite love quotes of all time.
    "Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." James Baldwin
    That's what I look for in a romance novel, for the characters to become emotionally vulnerable and to be rewarded for it with romance AND love.

  2. Kate - just a quick comment as I'm not supposed to be here - I LOVE the cover of 'The Proud Wife'! Wish we had that one over here in Aus.

  3. What I love about Valentine's Day is buying chocolates at half price on the day after! Not romantic, I know, but yummy!

    I think romance should be all year round. My boyfriend tells me that he loves me on more than just one day a year. :)

  4. Love that James Baldwin quote, Jill.... Darn wish I'd thought of that... Though must admit when Kate contacted me and asked for my take on romance I was busy wrestling with my latest ms and my hero and heroine were being particularly resistance to romance... And I was tempted to say Romance is a total nightmare!

  5. Simply stunning post ! For me romance is a combination of the description Heidie and Abby have given they took the words right out of my mouth !

    All the best Desere

  6. Lovely post Kate! Loved reading everyone else's take on what romance is...this post is like watching a good romantic movie! Feel all inspired now... and love the cover of The Proud Wife, it's gorgeous!
    x Abby

  7. Fabulous post, Kate! Loved it. Also wanted to add my voice to Annie's and Abby's comments - the cover for The Proud Wife is beautiful!