Clichés coming thick and fast – how I began to write

Like many people, I have wanted to write a novel. Like many people, I had a couple started and abandoned.  Also like many people, I decided I’d go to a course to learn how to do it.

The course – part funded by family and friends – was a romantic novel writing course.Taught by a star author of a well known and prolific publisher, it was set in Italy, North of Pisa, in a converted water mill. It was entirely attended by women, mostly of a certain age.

The clichés  – if they weren’t very visible before I arrived – certainly had the opportunity to pile up when we started the course. Glorious countryside, fabulous Italian light, pasta and a flamboyant author-teacher with 100 novels under her belt.

 A writing course with a view.

A writing course with a view.

Under the dappled shade of lime trees, around a huge table and with a wobbly flipchart, we listened hard to a not terribly-well organised treatise about how to write the perfect love story. We learned characters for romantic novels (not too many, the reader can’t cope), place (exotic, darling), storylines (from Cinderella to mistaken identity and surprise baby), sex scenes (definitely soft focus) and plotting.

The plotting – for my first book at least – was the most useful thing I learned. Story arcs, the need for a hiccup/misunderstanding and character development (such as it is in a churn-‘em-out romance publisher) were all planned and written in little boxes, before arriving at the climactic (sometimes literally) finale.

Yes, the whole thing was a cliché in some respects – but there were notable departures, some of which didn’t fit the genre. There was the need to air the beds (well, it was a water mill, after all, perhaps we should have expected it). The creaking plumbing.  The frankly lacklustre cooking and tiny portions, and the polite snobbery of the English hosts.

More positively, the enthusiasm and encouragement of the rest of the women, was wonderful – the memory of our howls of laughter as we read out our sex scenes will stay with me for a long time. A couple of people from the course I'm still in contact with.

But the best thing to come out of the course was a completed plot. Which I wrote into a book.  And which is the subject of this blog. This isn’t a how-to blog – God forbid, what do I know about it, struggling as I am with just managing to get words on paper?

This is a blog about what happened. What didn’t happen. And again, more positively, what might happen, and my dreams.