Good Romance Writing

It's Valentine's Day as I write this (although it probably won't be by the time you read it) so my thoughts are naturally turning to romance, and romance writing in particular.

My new book, Honeymoon Heist, is a romance in a sense, although the couple in question are married. One of the discussion questions at the end of the book is "Can a novel still be a romance or love story when the couple are married?" Over the weekend I got my own answer to that question when I read one of the most touching and romantic scenes I have ever had the pleasure to cry over.

The book was "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" by Alexander McCall Smith. Thanks to my book club (yet another reason to love book clubs) I have recently discovered the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and this particular chapter really summed up, for me, just how masterful the author is.

The heroine, Precious Ramotswe, is married to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, a mechanic. Having read the first few books in the series, I've followed them from the proposal through the wedding and into the first couple of years of marriage. He has always referred to her as Mma Ramotswe, and she always calls him Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. There has never, as far as I can remember, been any declaration of love, kissing or (perish the thought) anything more demostrative of their affection.

In the chapter in question Mr J.L.B. Matekoni has driven to Lobatse, along a dangerous road, to help out at a friend's garage. As he is leaving in the morning Mma Ramotswe feels a few moments of anxiety and runs out of the house to say goodbye to him again. During the course of her full day there are a few times when she thinks about her husband - how he compares to one of her clients, how he would respond to a particular situation - and by the time she arrives home again late in the evening she is reflecting that each day people are given bad news which changes their lives, and wondering if it is her turn. Her relief at seeing the lights of his truck is what had me blubbing, and as she ran out to greet him I reflected that her simple concern for her good and kind husband was filled more love and emotion than any romantic scene I had read elsewhere.

Mr J.L.B. Matekoni proposed to Mma Ramotswe by saying, "Please marry me, Mma Ramotswe. I am just Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, that's all, but please marry me and make me happy." No declaration of love, no compliment, not even a ring. I'm a Twilight fan (what do you mean you didn't know?) yet I can't help but think now that their marriage is as close and devoted and wonderful and Edward and Bella's. It is stunning and masterful writing that can turn a wife's simple concern for her perfectly ordinary, if very honourable and likeable, husband into a sweeping, powerful, emotional epic to rival Romeo and Juliet, or even Elizabeth and Mr Darcy (and they didn't snog either).

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