Sunday, February 04, 2007

Love, Love, Love...

... As we all know makes the world go round. It is also the stuff, the very heart (scuse the pun) of which my writing is made. And as it is Valentine's Day next week, it seems appropriate to talk about the fluffy stuff.

For you see, dear reader, I am that pernicious thing, a romantic novelist. There. I've come out, admitted the shameful fact, that I write about love. And, oh look, the sky hasn't fallen in, you aren't all bombarding me with pearls, and I can assure you, I'm not wearing pink.

On Saturday night I watched a film which made me go, aaaaahhhh, in that lovely gooey way you do, when after much travail and tribulation the guy gets the gal and all ends up right with the world, and you know, you just KNOW that somehow because you've seen it in a film, it is more acceptable then seeing it in a book.

Because for reasons I can't quite fathom, the most shameful place to be a writer is the corner of the literary genre that encompasses romantic fiction. And yet a romantic comedy is big box office material and never seems to get the same stick. Why is that I wonder? Apart from the obvious fact that most of ours successful rom coms appear to be directed by Richard Curtis aka He Who Can Do No Wrong, I think perhaps it is the fact that in a film we don't have to work so hard as we do in a book to fall into the characters' lives, so we can get swept up in their story, in a way we can't in a book. Or not so easily.

Take, for instance, Four Weddings and A Funeral, a film I really love (apart from Andie Mc Dowell whose character I find intensely irritating). Something that has always puzzled me however, is how all the characters actually know one another. They all appear fully formed in the first wedding and apart from pitching up at the subsequent ones and the funeral, I never get any sense that these people actually have a proper connection with each other except on state occasions. You could never get away with that in a book where you need to give your characters depth and background. Admittedly the depth does come in Four Weddings at the funeral, but only because it's John Hannah reading that Auden poem. I don't think another actor would have carried it off.

So maybe that's it, perhaps it is the actors that make rom coms acceptable to a cinema audience in the way they aren't to a bookish audience. But I blame that Barbara Cartland meself. Her reach is so long that even Matt Lucas has to impersonate her (though I am not so churlish that I don't find that character very funny). But as anyone who knows anything about romantic fiction is aware, it is a very broad church.

I am hugely proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelist's Association, whose members include: Mills and Boon authors, like Julie Cohen, Penny Jordan and Sophie Weston, saga writers like Benita Brown and Anna Jacobs, chick lit authors like Kate Harrison , historical authors such as Elizabeth Chadwick, bestsellers like Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

The point about romantic fiction surely is that we are writing about an aspect of human experience that surely everyone has some form of empathy with. If you've never been in love/found that perfect someone, for most people that really is the ideal, isn't it?

Which takes me neatly back to my film. I love watching rom coms, and I think I can always learn from them - Richard Curtis is just a genius at creating romantic tension. I laughed like a drain all the way through the last Vicar of Dibley, and loved the conceit that everyone kept saying that Richard Armitage was a boring accountant and why was she marrying him, which totally diverted from the fact that, let's face it, in real life he wouldn't have been marrying her.That's what the best romantic stories do - take us to a place we know isn't real, but gives us such a warm afterglow it makes our dull lives just that bit brighter. Margaret Atwood refers to it in Lady Oracle, where her heroine who writes Gothic Romances in secret, talks about building castles in the air for the girls she was at school with, now chained to the kitchen sink, their romantic ideals long since worn away.

The film I watched on Saturday pressed all those buttons to perfection. It's called Confetti, and I think it should be required watching for anyone who wants to write rom coms.

The basic premise is that Confetti, a wedding mag run by Jimmy Carr is running a competition to find the couple with the most unusal wedding.

The three couples who are chosen to compete with each other are:

Josef and Isobel - an insanely competitive tennis couple played by Stephen Mangan and Meredith McNeill

Michael and Joanna - a naturist couple who plan to get married naked, played by Robert Webb and Olivia Colman

Matt and Sam - who want to have a musical wedding, and are played by Martin Freeman and Jessica Stephenson.

The magazine hire a couple of wedding planners, called Archie and Gregory who inevitably are gay, but boy do they subvert expectations, which is another thing I think all good romantic stories should do.

To begin with you think they are taking control - one of them says at one point, it's our wedding. But gradually you realise, that actually they are giving control to each of the couples. So they subtly tease Matt and Sam away from the overbearing influence of Sam's mum and sister who want to organise the dancing to suit them (Sam's sister dances in cruise ships and is trying to overrule the choreographer hired by the wedding planners). At another point Michael and Joanna discover that the magazine doesn't want them to be nude, and Archie says, that despite what other people think it should be Archie and Gregory's job to give them what they want. In another glorious scene, in which Stephen Mangan (who has anger issues) is trying to beat up his fiance's tennis coach in a jealous rage, Gregory leaps on top of him, gets him in arm lock and says, you don't get to be the only gay at a public school without learning something.

From having thought they would be stereotypes at the beginning, Archie and Gregory actually steal the show, by producing three glorious weddings which are immensely touching. My favourites was the nudists, which I thought would be funny, but instead brought a tear to my eye, even though the poems they read to one another could have come across as naff and corny. The tennis wedding was brilliantly staged, and Stephen Mangan performed the same trick he did in Green Wing of making me hate him, and then end up feeling sorry for him, and even at that particular moment liking him. The musical wedding inevitably won (though wonderfully the DVD does offer alternative endings), just because it was so dazzlingly shot and cleverly executed. And I loved the ending of the song Jessica Stephenson and Martin Freeman sang one another, where he sings I do, and her response is Me, too.

The icing on the cake as it were, was in the outtakes when Gregory proposes to Archie in another immensely affecting moment.

If I could ever ever produce a book which engendered the emotions that that film has created in me, I would die a very happy woman...

In the meantime, the bar is set high, I have a lot to aim for, and a novel to get on with.

Best get to it then...


liz fenwick said...

Wow you say it all so well. My youngest waxed on about love this morning quite lyrically. How they come up with these things - I don't know.

Good luck with writing today :-)

Jane Henry said...

Thanks Liz, that's really nice of you. Actually today not a proper writing day as am trying to get rid of some proofs first. But I ended up doing neither, as first man came to measure up for conservatory blinds, then neighbour came for coffee, then mil pitched up and stayed for lunch and is still here!

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

On the upside, neighbour was very complimentary about my book which I'd given her to read to check for accuracy.

Sue said...

Give me a romantic book or film any day.

I just love to escape for a few precious moments into those fantasy worlds ..... even though they are usually predictable!

But even that's part of the fun, knowing if you are right about the ending.

I couldn't read the part of your blog about confetti as I haven't watched it yet and really want to. I don't want to spoil my chance at guessing what is going to happen ;-)

Jane Henry said...

Hullo Sue, and welcome to my blog! I won't spoil the end of Confetti, but it is really really funny. And sweet. And soooo romantic!

I saw Casanova the other day and really loved that too...