I’m not quite sure why I set my romcom in Newcastle. It’s not like I was living there at the time, and the events it was – very – loosely based on all happened when I was living in Sheffield or London.
In part it was because the location seemed a bit of a novelty in the genre. Sure, there are exceptions, but in my experience romcoms can be divided into those set in glamorous urban locations (London, Paris, New York) which revolve around high flying – if improbably easy to fall into – jobs such as journalist, PR, cupcake shop owner – or genteel, cosy countryside or coast (jobs: bookshop or cafe owner). The heroines, for the most part, are also solidly middle class.
There’s nothing wrong with these tropes, of course: god knows I spend every December glued to the Hallmark Channel watching Christmas movies that are some variant on High Flying City Girl Moves Back to the Country to Find Love, and if you set your romance in a bookshop, I’m already halfway sold. There’s something reassuring in a read that brings a new take to tropes you are familiar with, especially if it does so in a way that challenges the genre slightly, or is imbued with the kind of smarts and humour the best romance writers bring to their work. (I have no time for genre snobbery – it’s usually laced thick with misogyny, ageism and classism. There are some incredibly talented romantic comedy writers out there, and the fact they make it look so easy just proves how good they are).
So it wasn’t in any attempt to be better than people who’ve been doing this longer and more successfully than me, no. It was, if I’m honest, a bit of a whim. I wanted to write a character who was as Northern and working class as me; who struggled with loneliness the same way I had; and who was employed in an OK but not spectacular job that bore a striking familiarity to many of the OK but not spectacular jobs I have had in my own time, (a job which, no spoilers, she is still doing at the end of the book).
More than that, though, I wanted to write about my hometown. I wanted to write a book where London wasn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, more an entertaining if expensive stepping stone on the heroine’s journey home. Where the sights of the city play a part in the story: the aspiration of luxury flats on the Quayside, the restaurant at the Baltic, the beautiful coastline we have down the road. Hell, I even slipped in a mention of the Tuxedo Princess for no other reason than pure nostalgia.
I’ve always had a strong sense of location in my work. Doll was set in Sheffield; Dark Dates is based firmly in Smithfield, an area of London where I used to work – I spent hours wandering the streets there to ensure I got the geography right. But there’s a special pleasure in writing about somewhere that’s baked into your bones, where the seam of the city runs through you. If nothing else, it’s just fun – going over memories of clubbing in Walkers and drinking in the Barley Mow, and deciding which of these you can use for the plotlines.
In the end, I was delighted with how the book turned out, and the reception it got. It’s funny and honest and playful, and imbued with emotional truth. I’ve had lovely feedback both from people who love romcoms and those would would never normally read them – so I figure I must be doing something right.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying: if you like this blog, why not buy a copy? You’ll probably get all the references, after all.