I long ago decided that writing what you know isn’t the best way to begin a writing career. Sometimes writing what you know, what you feel deeply, can stifle your voice much more successfully than flights of pure fantasy. Sometimes you have to work up to it. You don’t approach a scared animal by gallumphning up to it, hand outstretched. Often you have to sit nearby, back turned for quite a while before you can even consider getting close, let alone making contact. But what we know is always there. Even writing Regency romances (how much more flight of fancy can one get short of adding magic?) I never stray that far from what I am, good and bad. In fact, by writing what some would considered light hearted romance stories, I find I am connecting more deeply with issues that matter to me than when I tried to write them as they are. I don’t even mean to put them in there – it isn’t a conscious agenda (I’m a thorough pantser, I’m afraid), I just suddenly find them there, whole and working away and that is that.
In my latest book Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress I touch upon issues that affected people I care and cared for very deeply – suicide and survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and bullying. They don’t take over the story but they are there and from some of the reviews coming I am relieved to hear they have enriched the characters and the romance. In the book Hunter’s younger brother, a sensitive boy who joins the army to prove himself, is captured and maimed and never succeeds in recovering either physically or mentally. Despite Hunter’s efforts he commits suicide, locking Hunter into guilt and remorse and inadvertently connecting Hunter’s life with that of Nell who is trying to escape a bullying aunt and indifferent father. Nell finds her personal redemption by giving love, to horses and to the schoolchildren she teaches. Hunter finds his in helping war veterans avoid the path his brother took and in otherwise indulge in a care for nobody rakish lifestyle.
I was once told that ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ I don’t believe in that. I think we could probably do without a great many of the knocks life deals us. But I do believe that dealing with those knocks, and in particular knowing how to seek help and depending on others to see us, support us, and even to know when to stand back do make us stronger. That is why I love writing about people going on these difficult journeys.
So, writing about what hurts you can be very romantic because if love can grow on such rocky ground, it is love worth nurturing.