Last week I went to a Romantic Fiction Writing Workshop. I hopped on the bus to nowhereville (Chapeltown) and made my way to the library, where I found our coven of schmaltz-peddlers. The class was lead by a Jacqueline Aurora, a woman who specialised in Historical Romance for Mills and Boon. Her first 2 novels concerned ‘the Great Viking raid of 855AD’.
“When I sent my first draft off, Mills and Boon asked me to make the Vikings more…diplomatic” she said.
I could see I was dealing with a master comedian here, because she kept a straight face throughout the session. Either that or she was clueless.
The group is made up of retired schoolteachers, a blushing 17 year old boy, and me. Most of them are chummy because they belong to a local writing group. There’s a woman who was rejected by Mills and Boon, her plaintive voice carrying years of hurt;
“But I don’t understand, I read all the Mills and Boon books and I copied down lots of phrases exactly in my book”
Methinks that’s the reason?
“But I just don’t understand” she keeps repeating.
Here was Jacqeline’s tip on storyline:
“I’ll tell you what your plot is right now: Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back. Don’t bother trying to make it more complicated, all that matters is the details”
A little later, we have to come up with our hero. The ruddy-faced eco-warrior next to me pipes up:
“He is 5’8 with ruddy cheeks. He lost his wife in a logging accident and wants to take the company down”
“Stop right there” says Jacqueline, “he has to be over 5’8 or no-one will give a shit”
“B-but 5’8 is tall in my family”
“I don’t care- no one wants a short-arse hero”
“Let me tell you mine,” says the wronged woman in the corner, “I see a rugged Italian man called Antonio. He has thick curly black hair which just touches the collar of his shirt. He teaches Italian and writes poetry”.
West St. on a Friday night is full of Antonio’s who will promise you poems and give you piles, I reflect wistfully.
I decide to base my hero on Prince William;
“He is a Prince and feels like his life has been mapped out for him by the media and the public. He falls in love with a girl below his station at university, but she finds it hard to take the publicity and so leaves him. He has become cruel in the wake of his mother’s suspicious death, and rejects her at first. Both of his parents ended up with someone else, and he hates the idea of betrayal. She realises that he is her only love and they marry in great ceremony”
“Yes” says Jacqueline. “Next.”
So now I have decided to take Friday off work every week to start my romance novel. Apparently there are 12 lines at Mills and Boon including porn (Blaze: “a promise of intimate journeys and complete satisfaction”), “medical romance” (!!), supernatural (latest title “Lord of Rage”) and light petting (“Cherish”).
I’m sitting here now, in Nile’s cramped livingroom, shifting my weight every few seconds to reduce the ring-sting I’ve had since my mega-poo earlier today. I reflect on how different life could have been. Yesterday I committed a low level act of fan worship by spending 2 hours in the cold awaiting the appearance of Jarvis Cocker at Waterstones. When I got there around 3.30, the queue was large and consisted only of emos. Mistaking the middle of the queue for the end, I suffered the puny evil eyes of purple dyed children of the corn until I realised I was stood next to Holly, a friend from back in the day (2001-2, the Floral Shirt Years). We had wrung those halcyon days of every last buttery drop of debauchery, tomfoolery and inanity. Her companion was a droll commentator on remembrances of things passed.
“Where is all the 70s polyester and tight leather?” I asked, looking round at all the faux-faded denim and baggy hoodies. Age is cruel mistress, feeding you exquisite joy before holding you static while the world is sped up around you, finally releasing it’s grip to let you stumble to a mirror and scream in despair at what stares back.
Anyway, Jarvis finally arrived with his girlf and jack russell (senior) looking like a drowned rat. As he looked up at the queue that snaked round every available space in the shop I caught a micro-expression of horror. A woman came round the queue saying;
“He’s not going to write an essay so write our first name on a post-it note that I’m bringing round. And you can only take a photo of him but not with him”
Why bother being there at all I thought, if he’s just going to copy the name on the note and you can probably get a better picture off Google? Because I love him, came the quick and clammy answer. When I finally got to the table, all the droll comments I had planned went out of my head and I ended up blushing at my choice of ‘Vienna’ for a signee. As I mumbled about being a “failed celebrity from Psalter Lane”, I was transported into Jarv’s head looking up at a delusional loon who would strangle my idol for a taste of fame. He just didn’t get me.
“Don’t talk about Psalter Lane, you’ll make me cry” he said.
And then I was elbowed away by a tweenie. When I got a safe distance away, I looked down at what he’d written:
What did he mean?
“That’s like the song” Esther said when I got home.
“Vienna, like the song” I thought dreamily.
Jarv had got me!