I am, of course, a romantic at heart – what romance novelist isn’t? But in today’s fast-paced era of busy people hurtling around in their busy lives; of connecting to people via the internet and mobile phone more than face to face (even arranging dating online); of rising divorce rates and disillusion with long-term relationships; of the axing of the Saturday night romantic comedy film in favour of The X Factor – do I believe in love at first sight?
Love at first sight is, I believe, at the very heart of romanticism. The idea that your body, mind and soul know, in an instant, that you have found a partner for life is so exciting, so comforting, so magical. I know, of course, all the science behind the instant rush of attraction – the hormone release that takes place when your mind realises, in but a few seconds, that the person before you is compatible physically. But just as when sceptics go to great lengths to provide scientific rationalisations for amazing occurrences – a mother’s sudden strength to lift a car off her injured child; an angelic light in the sky above a church on Christmas Eve – I always feel there is something more, something missing in the cold, hard, factual explanation. Perhaps, as Lennon said, I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.
But, interestingly, I may actually be in a minority among my fellow women. A recent survey of 1,500 men and 1,500 women aged 16 to 86 commissioned by romance novelist Elizabeth Noble and reported on widely in the media found that in fact men are more likely to fall in love at first sight than women. The majority of men surveyed said they had fallen in love after just one date with a woman, and a fifth admitted to falling in love at first sight. Set that against the fact that only one in ten of the women surveyed said they had fallen in love at first sight.
In my novel Burning Embers, I don’t lay down that Coral and Rafe’s love is instantaneous, but there is certainly an immediate attraction that goes beyond the purely physical. It is almost as though the two imprint on each other, and from the moment they meet, there is no going back – their destinies are interwoven.
Although as I wrote the book I was convinced that the characters should be together, that they loved each other, whatever their actions and whatever the obstacles, I did not want their relationship to be predestined, set in stone. It was important to me that both characters choose to follow their love: Coral must choose to grow up into a woman, let go of her naivety and trust Rafe; and Rafe must, in turn, choose to let go of his past, trust Coral and accept her love.
So while when I write the initial meeting between two characters in a romance novel I picture an atmosphere imbued with love (think Cupid on high aiming his arrow, or a besotted cartoon character with hearts in its eyes), I believe the romance that unfolds must be empowering for the characters. Love is not enough in and of itself. They must choose to love as well.