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Romance, love and sex, oh YEEEEESSSS!


Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn 

Romance is a word frequently derided, especially in literature: 

Oh no, I don’t read romance – all that soppy mush. 

I like thrillers or science fiction. 

Give me a crime novel or an adventure – can’t be doing with love stuff. 

But why? Surely love, falling in love,
falling out of love, who we love, who loves us is crucial to human existence.
It certainly plays a significant part in the happiness or unhappiness of our
lives. And if one of the reasons why we read novels is to gain understanding of
what it means to be a human being – to explore experiences and emotions we
might share with the characters – then romance is essential reading.
Perhaps predictable and clichéd love
stories in some women’s magazines have helped give romance a bad name. Or, perhaps
melodramatic dialogue and situations in some romantic novels have contributed
to the scorn often poured on romance.
Noah Lukeman in his book on writing a
novel ‘The First Five Pages’ says ‘Melodramatic dialogue comes in innumerable
forms and the most common is probably romantic. Many writers have a tendency to
push love scenes over the edge, to translate strong feelings into strong dialogue.
Almost always this is a mistake.’ And he gives this sort of dialogue as an
            Oh, Henry!
            Oh, Margaret!
            They ran into each other’s arms and
embraced for what seemed like an eternity.
            Oh, Henry, you know I’ve loved you
            Oh, Margaret! If only words could
express my love for you!
            He picked her up and spun her around
in the field of magical, glowing dandelions.
Most of us reading that would throw the
book across the room and resolve never to pick up another romance. But there
are some beautiful love stories. I remember crying over ‘The End of the Affair’
by Graham Greene, and I loved Rosamund Lehmann’s ‘Weather in the Streets’. I’ve
recently finished Helen Dunmore’s ‘The Betrayal’, a sequel to ‘The Siege’. The
novels describe the terrible events of the Siege of Leningrad during the Second
World War and the brutal Stalinist years that followed, but at their heart is
an exquisite love story which keeps the characters’ humanity alive.
My novel, ‘Unravelling’ is a love story,
but it’s also a story about love. I
wrote it because I wanted to explore the concept of a love that survives a
lifetime, despite separation, estrangement and betrayal. Its early title was
All That Remains from the notion that whatever life throws at us, what counts
in the end – what ‘remains’– is love.

I was
interested in the idea taken from Plato’s Symposium that humans were once made
up of two halves, one female, one male. The gods, out of jealousy, split them
in two, and now we spend our lives looking for our other half, our ‘soul mate’.
It’s an idea that’s prevalent in modern culture and perhaps an ideal we all
yearn for.

When I read an
article about someone’s parents who remarried aged 58 and 73, having first
eloped in the 1960s, the love affair at the heart of Unravelling was

explores the contrasts between ‘young’ love and ‘old’ love, between passionate,
dangerous love and quiet, secure love. It considers the forces that shape love
at different times in our lives. While it is a novel about love, with a
powerful love affair, passionate characters and an involving plot, it is not a
romantic novel in the accepted sense.

The blurb for
‘Unravelling’ describes it exploring the
complexity and contradictions of love and sexual attraction,
which brings
us to the tricky subject of sex! No romantic novel can call itself that without
some love scenes in it, and for a contemporary novel that will almost certainly
include sex. Modern readers don’t want the dot dot dot as the bedroom door
closes. We only have to think of the Fifty Shades’ phenomenon to recognise

But how to
write love scenes that aren’t slushy or cloying or pornographic? What words
should writers use? Biological terms sound like a text book; euphemisms like
cop-outs; pet names idiotic in the 21st century. Writing a love
scene means losing your inhibitions. I teach creative writing and sometimes
give students a sex scene to write. Most of them are incredibly nervous about
the challenge, or can only approach it in a jokey way.

But sex scenes
can’t be avoided. Real people have sex, and characters in a novel who are
supposedly in love, but never have sex won’t have the necessary credibility to
make their readers care about them. It’s not easy, but becomes easier if a
writer doesn’t think about the sex as a separate activity – a hurdle they must
jump. I think the love scene must grow out of the characters and their
relationship. The sexual tension that exists between characters must be there before the writer gives
them the chance to fulfil it.  

Contacts for Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Vanessa and Gerald first fall in love in the sixties when she is an art student and he a sculptor. As her tutor, he is a charismatic figure in the young Vanessa’s eyes. Their relationship is passionate, thrilling, sexy. They marry and Vanessa pictures them as the glamorous couple of the art world. Reality is far different and eventually he leaves.

Vanessa makes a new life for herself, but Gerald
can’t stay away, and she finds herself captivated by his magic all over again,
triggering a tragic chain that comes to dominate their lives.

Exploring the complexity and contradictions of love
and sexual attraction: their power to generate both passion and heartbreak; to
cause delight and despair;
Unravelling is
a story that engages both the heart and the mind.

Author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
Lindsay is a novelist and short story writer. Her novel Unravelling was published in 2010. It has since won two awards, The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award and Chapter One Promotions Book Award, and come second in the 2011 International Rubery Book Award. Lindsay’s second novel The Piano Player’s Son will be published by Cinnamon Press in 2013. Her short stories have also been published, including the title story and two others in the Cinnamon anthology Feeding the Cat.

Lindsay also teaches creative writing. She is involved with the Worcestershire Literary Festival, judging a flash fiction competition for the 2012 festival and editing an anthology A Flash of Fiction. 

Unravelling has won two awards The Chapter One Promotions Book Award and the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award and came second in the 2011 Rubery Book Award. Lindsay is working on her third novel.