In Praise of Love Stories (and a Valentine's day giveaway to all my readers)

Kindle version, cover by Alison Bell
Ever since I've started publishing my novels and stories (and a few plays) to Kindle, I've decided to stop apologising for something that seems to come naturally to me. Appropriately enough for this time of year - it's writing love stories. When I think about it, I've written love stories (and quite a few love poems too) all my working life - beginning a very long time ago with a short story for She magazine called Catch Two about a young woman and an older man, trapped in a lift.
There were love poems, serious and quirky, many of which have been anthologised (including a much- loved poem called Thread, in Antonia Fraser's Scottish Love Poems anthology.) And there were many plays for radio which - although not only love stories -  were so often also stories about love.

Well, I'm in good company.

Not, you understand, that I'm comparing myself to these writers - but some of my very favourite authors, such as Thomas Hardy and the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell,  Jane Austen and countless others - even Shakespeare himself - wrote about love in all its fascinating manifestations. Moreover, we're enthralled by the stories of so many people, fictional and factual, because they are wonderful love stories: Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Napoleon and Josephine, Lancelot and Guinevere, Heloise and Abelard, Dante and Beatrice, Diarmuid and Grania, Robert Burns and Jean Armour (I'm working on that one myself at the moment!) Posh and Becks...enough already.

I'm not sure when I first began to feel faintly guilty about my own literary themes. Was it when somebody asked me for the umpteenth time what I wrote about, and I found myself strangely reluctant to admit to writing about love, actually? Was I afraid they might think I was trying to outdo Barbara Cartland, in pink chiffon and mascara? Not, you understand, that I have anything at all against romance. I confess to being a deeply romantic individual - I cling to it in the face of age and experience - and I like a good happy-ever-after romance as well as the next woman. Besides, I hate the kind of literary snobbery that seeks to place everything in a hideous hierarchy of worthiness. But perhaps I already had a creeping perception that any reference to the subject of love - coming from a female writer - practically guaranteed that the work in question wouldn't be taken seriously.

Does this happen to male writers? I think not. Perhaps the critics expect them to write seriously about love as about everything else. Perhaps they just assume that the male perspective will have more 'gravitas'. You know - a little like the old joke.
'I make decisions about the really important matters,' says the man. 'Like how to achieve world peace and what's wrong with the government. My wife just decides the unimportant domestic stuff like where we live, and how we spend the money and where the kids go to school and silly little things like that. '
Personally, I've read sugary nonsense by a few well-regarded male writers which has been hailed as fine writing and I do sometimes wonder why nobody has noticed. But since I'm not in the business of making enemies, I won't name names!

Anyway, back to love. At a time when I was still hoping for more conventional publication deals and scanning Scottish publishing websites, I had the heart-sinking perception of just how macho those sites were. No love stories for them, it seemed. Have things changed in the intervening period? Not much, on the evidence of a quick scan this morning.

But I know when the realisation that a love story was the - er - kiss of death struck me with some force. It was when The Curiosity Cabinet was one of three novels shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize and eventually published by Polygon (although it's now mine again, and available on Kindle) Even though no less a critic than John Burnside had praised it as a 'powerful story about love and obligation' a member of one of the Scottish book groups, asked to report on the shortlisted novels, described it as a 'guilty pleasure'.

Why guilty?

Surely not because it's - perish the thought - a story about love? So is Bird of Passage. Although it's definitely a bird of a different and much more heartrending feather.

Cover art by Matt Zanetti

The truth is that some of the greatest stories ever told have been love stories so I'm resolved to stop apologising for writing them, even though I know I'm going to have to explain that most of mine don't end happily ever after. Like life, they tend to be a mixture of sadness, change and hope for the future.
My next novel, The Amber Heart is - among other things - a love story. The driving force of the whole thing is a passionate, pretty much disastrous, lifelong love story, based very loosely on a real life and equally disastrous love story from my own family history. A Polish love story. A bit like Gone With the Wind, but with even stranger names. Coming soon to a Kindle near you.

Meanwhile, in honour of St Valentine, I'm planning a couple of Kindle Freebies - Bird of Passage, and The Curiosity Cabinet. Love stories, both of them.
I only ask one thing. If you download either or both of these novels, read them - and find that you enjoy them - please do me the big favour of telling your friends!
Both will be free to download on 14th of February. Go on. Even if you still think it'll be a guilty pleasure, you know you want to!

Catherine Czerkawska


Joanna Hickson said…
Your observations about writing love stories really struck a chord with me Catherine. Like you I constantly find myself explaining the subtle but extremely important difference between love and romance with regard to my stories. Sometimes they contain both and certainly like you I consider love one of the most important driving forces of any story but the assumption that its use always results in 'romantic fiction' is utterly wrong. Not that I have any objection to romantic fiction - I've indulged in enough of it in my time - I suppose I just don't like spurious labels. Thanks for the opportunity of venting my spleen on this matter! I've enjoyed it and I've really enjoyed your blog.
Thanks for commenting, Joanna. I've found myself thinking about this more and more, recently. There IS a subtle but important difference, and like you, I enjoy romantic fiction too - but not all love stories are necessarily romantic. It's the unfortunate need to label everything, to slot a piece of writing neatly into place that I object to.
Hi Catherine - I've just finished reading The Curiosity Cabinet - I absolutely loved it, and have told all my friends to download and read it!!

I'm really looking forward to reading Bird of Passage.

The Curiosity Cabinet was my Friday recommended read on my blog.
Ah, thank-you! That makes me very happy on a Monday morning! It's so lovely when people enjoy the books.