Banged by a Brontosaurus… and other untrue romance

roses and a heart

Imagine my surprise when I found myself writing a time-travel romance. I’m not ‘into’ romance as a genre. Fantasy is my thing, with some crime and horror thrown in for light relief. Fantasy is wild and limitless and red and green and purple – a long, long LONG way from my current dreary grey existence.

But I am in the middle of revising Shriven (three books so far and counting), and felt the compelling urge to write something totally different.

One of the reasons I am drawn to fantasy is it is the opposite of my day job. As a junior reporter (a million years ago), I quickly learned to write quickly, clearly and on a deadline. I also learned to write tight. Page leads were 320 words, second leads were 250 words and a string of nibs (news in brief) was four tiny stories of 50-75 words each (usually ‘self-extinguished rubbish fires’). There was no point writing more – the subs would only cut it anyway, and who had the time to wax lyrical when newsdesk were badgering you for the page 5 sidebar?

When I moved onto the sub-editor’s desk I had to get even tighter. You had a space to fill and nothing you could do would make it bigger. I spent the hours cutting all the extraneous ‘thats’ and changing ‘investigation’ into ‘probe’.

And did all that change when news moved away from the constraints of the printed page onto the wonderfully flexible, ultimately bottomless screen? Did it hell. Now our attention spans are so short no-one has time to read a long, descriptive news story. We prefer stuff on the lines of ‘7 weird plants that only grow in Panama (number 5 will blow your mind!)’.

So, after years cutting and slicing and chipping away at words, imagine the corset-cutting relief of letting rip with a fantasy novel. I started writing and couldn’t stop. 10,000 words, 20,000, 50,000 – my books come in at the 150,000 mark – each. Fancy a bit more description of that butterfly – bang it out! Want to write a scene about walking in a straight line when you’re pissed, even though it adds nowt to the plot – go ahead! Have an idea for an unusual character, who does something stupid, just for kicks – bring it on!

But when you are revising and editing, you don’t get to do this. You alter a couple of lines, check a couple of facts, correct a mistake, make some notes. DULL.

So my mind starts to wander, I come up with an idea for a fantastic brain-altering app, and before you know it I have taken this and turned it into a plot.

But it isn’t fantasy, it is more science fictiony, but I can’t commit to a ‘proper’ SF novel, with all the real science and research needed to make it good, because, y’know, Shriven. I need something closer to a news story, something with rules.

Romance has rules.

couple on beach with umbrella

Why have they got an umbrella? Are umbrellas romantic?

  • Take two protaganists (don’t have to be opposite sexes either – get with the 21st Century, grandma).
  • They are attracted to each other, even if they don’t admit it to themselves (that’s why it is called Romance. Durr).
  • But something stands in their way (and not some frustrating misunderstanding that can be explained away in a single sentence).
  • That something is resolved. Our hero and heroine/heroes/heroines come together.

With these rules you can plan and plot, and it has to be tight and it has to be convincing but it has to follow the rules. Once you have your plot, it takes some of the pressure off – you ‘just’ write the damn thing.

Or so I thought.

To get me in the groove, and to see how the pros do it, I have read a Kindle-full of romance novels in the past few months. There is a lot more to Romance than I realised.

Firstly, in the straightforward stuff, there are sub-rules.

peach rose on a page

It’s only really romantic if you’re called Anna

  • All the heroines have small hands (why? Dunno, but they do).
  • No-one is a virgin, but they have had a couple of unsuccessful relationships, or have had their heart broken by a cad (male and female).
  • The heroines have classic names, like Elizabeth, Catherine, Victoria. No Alyeesheah or Beyonce here.
  • The heroes have classic names like Alex or Adam, or cowboy names like Flint or Kane.
  • The heroine thinks the hero hates her, because he glares and shouts at her, never realising it is because he is hiding his love/scared for her safety/an arrogant twat.
  • There is usually another man who adores our heroine, but she regards him as a nice big brother, and he accepts this with a rueful smile and a shrug.
  • There is also a Wise Older Woman who rudely dispenses advice about how the couple are destined to be together and how it will All Be Alright In The End. If this happened in real life you’d tell them to mind their own bloody business.

Now, to the less than straightforward stuff. The world of the sub-genre.

I’m not talking doctors and nurses here, or Regency romance. Hoo, nope. There is a mind-trembling number of sub-genres out there. There is a market for romances set in tattoo parlours, featuring Greek shipping tycoons, Vikings, amnesia victims, reincarnation, ghosts, yetis, shapeshifters. The shifter romance section is massive – not just werewolves and stuff but whole towns of motorbike-riding shapeshifters, featuring everything from bears to hedgehogs. (Oh yes, there is an erotic werehedgehog novel out there. Ouch).

Mounted by the Gryphon, Taken by the T-Rex covers

These are real books. You’ve gotta love the prehistoric gold lame and denim

Which brings me to… dinoerotica. There is a series of books about nubile cavegirls in very un-prehistoric lingerie who get it on with dinosaurs. These books are worth writing if only for the titles; Ravished by a Raptor, Taken by the T-Rex, Banged by a Brontosaurus, Going Down on a Diplodocus (I made the last two up). Haven’t read them so I’m not going to comment on their literary merit, but hell, I wish I’d thought of them…

Instead, I came up with a contemporary time-travel romance (title pending. Something to do with dream and time. Dreamtime maybe). Which seems horribly tame next to were-squirrels and raunchy raptors, but I’m going to stick with it. For now.

Who are the guerrilla daffodil planters?

Daffodils by a wire fence

Hurtling through a country lane I am brought up short by a dazzling gang of daffodils ranged along the verge. Not just in one spot, or around a driveway, but all the way along the road, like a cheering cloud waiting for marathon runners. We are talking hundreds and hundreds of blatantly yellow flowers here, nodding their heads in time to the traffic on sturdy green stalks.

daffodils by a fence

Are these wild? They look pretty calm…

It looked wonderful – but who did it? Who spent days planting them, and why? The land isn’t owned by one person, nor by the council (this wasn’t a neat verge – this was the edge of woodland, a couple of pig fields, a farm entrance, a cattery, some private properties, a lay-by…). You couldn’t do it with a couple of dozen bulbs – you would need potato sacks full of them.

So then, I see daffodils everywhere. High up on a bank by the beck, where even the dog has problem scrambling to; at the base of a gas pipeline bridge; in the middle of some fly-tipped rubble on the track that leads to the chicken farm. It wasn’t the chickens who planted them. Then who?

Daffodils by a gas pipeline

This clump by a gas pipeline were the only ones for miles

These aren’t wild daffodils. I looked them up. Wild ones (Narcissus pseudonarcissus – oh yes, I can google stuff) are sort of paler and smaller. The ones round here are the really chavvy buy-in-bulk supermarket ones, with blingy bright yellow trumpets. These daffs take no prisoners. Unless they have sort of mated with the wild ones and then taken over their habitats, like homo sapiens did with Neanderthal man – can flowers do this? Are daffodils the Viking invaders of the spring flower world?

Daffodils by a stream

More daffs, half way up a steep bank

There is never any evidence of anyone planting them though, and who would hawk a great sack of bulbs and a trowel into a wood or down a rarely-used track? But if someone did, then they are a pretty spectacular person. Did they go out at night? How did they choose the right spot? Or was it a government policy 50 years ago that is still flowering today?

Are they planted or have they gone rogue? If they are planted, then who plants them? When? How long ago? And why? Are they really – really REALLY so lovely and pure hearted they do it simply for the sake of beauty? Oh Gods, I hope so…