I don’t write love stories. I like breaking up characters much more than letting them get together. I like when characters realise that they’re over that ex they’ve been obsessing over (like Danielle and Mark in Memories), or when they hook up with a friend and then realise it’s just made things more complicated (like Emily and Barry in Good Girls Don’t. Or Emily and, um, everyone). I like when characters like someone who ends up with their best friend (Abi, Shane, and Sarah in Stereotype), or when they have an unfortunate crush on someone who’s never going to like them back (Lynn and Neil in Every Summer). I like people who get involved in relationships for all the wrong reasons (Chloe in Every Summer). I love writing about crushes and obsessions, but they’re not all I write about – there are many flavours of angst to play with – so maybe that’s why having a romantic happy ending isn’t always that important to me.
The exception is That Girl, and if I had to pick a Fictional Boyfriend it would be Michael. (He is gossipy, argues with her about music, is good at birthday presents, and thinks coffee cures everything. Apparently these are qualities I find appealing.) But most of the time I’m sceptical about romantic happy endings. I’m sceptical of the whole idea of soulmates, and finding True Love, and love-at-first-sight. On more cynical days I am sceptical about Romantic Love, full stop.
But. All of my characters can’t be cynical grumpy types, in the same way that they can’t be hopeless romantics, either. I’ve just finished the first draft of a book about a romantic. In some ways she is like me. And in other ways she is not, not at all. This is the same with most characters, really – you need to get inside their head, and part of that is about them having a trait that either is an exaggerated version of part of yourself, or something that just fascinates you. But you also need to distance yourself from them – because you’re not writing a memoir, you’re writing fiction. My main character in that book says things I do not agree with. And from the very beginning, my cynical side stepped in and argued with me over the ending. She wanted the miserable ending, the one where instead of things ending up happily, not happily-ever-after but happily-now, things go horribly wrong and it doesn’t work out and the main character’s learned a valuable lesson and grown terribly jaded. “That’s much more realistic,” said my cynical side, smugly tapping her fingers on the desk. I think she is right, to a certain extent, and one of the things I’m going to be looking carefully at when I start revising is how to balance the romance with realism. But my cynical side needs to remember that this is not an author’s manifesto. It’s a book about a particular character, and the way she thinks, and the way she lives her life. It’s a love story. Much as my natural inclination is to write about things going dreadfully wrong, a couple of happy endings aren’t going to kill me. Probably.