By Mara Malins
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
Romance in fiction has always been so perfect. The storyline usually follows an enjoyable but predictable arc of two attractive people overcoming some kind of obstacle to arrive at a perfect relationship with nothing but happiness in their future. The formula—and it is a formula—almost always guarantees a happy ending, a resolution, a payoff for reading to the end. There’s a reason that this formula hasn’t got tired; people love it. I love it, which is why I used something similar for the previous three stories in the INKomplete series. Afterall, who doesn’t love a happy ending?
But for the fourth story I wanted to tackle it in a slightly different way. It was important to me that each of these stories had a purpose, a reason for being out there, and this one was to deal with the last stage of life; grief and the loss of someone important in life. I needed to start the romance arc further down the line for this one. For it to work, Blakey needed to have already had his happy ending, his perfect partner, the love of his life, and to have lost it with no chance of getting it back. This is why his wife, Elizabeth, dies five years before this story starts.
Once again I found myself in research hell. I needed to make sure that I did the theme justice. I had to make sure that I got the details right and believable. It was during my research that I came across the opening quote to this blog. I found it so perfectly perfect for what I was going for in Blakey’s story that I had it that top of my story to remind me of why I was writing about grief.
Grief is just love with no place to go.
Blakey still loves Elizabeth. He always will. Which is why, when he starts to fall in love with Aisleyne, he is so utterly confused and helpless. It was the “moving on” aspect of their relationship—the idea that you can love two people—that I really wanted to tackle.
But there was also another reason why I wanted this emotional arc for Blakey; he’s a gruff, rough-around-the-edges, old-fashioned man’s man. He’s the type of man who would find it very difficult to talk about his feelings. It’s a fact—and a problem—that most men don’t discuss or seek help for their emotional and mental health and this was something I wanted to raise, albeit in an understated way.
Emotional vulnerability in men comes with a sense of stigma. During my research, I read a study where researchers from Miami University studied the pattern of grief in people recently bereaved. They found that men were twice as likely to die during the course of their study than women. Twice as likely. This is a frightening statistic and they put it down to the fact that women are far more likely to seek help for their bereavement than men. This is a massive problem. The stigma has to end.
This is why it was important that the old-fashioned patriarch in my world was going to acknowledge that he needed help. Even a gruff man like Blakey should be able to admit that he’s vulnerable. It should be a strength to admit weakness. So, Blakey seeks out Pete mid-story and recognises that he hasn’t been grieving healthily. It’s a turning point in the story that leads to acceptance, and from there he can start to think about moving on.
Again, I’d like to think that these efforts come through in the story, but I also hope that it isn’t so on-the-nose that the narration becomes a sermon. If there is one important thing I learned during my research it’s that there is no right way to grieve. Everyone does it their own way. Blakey’s story is just his way.
As a sweet, sweet bonus, Mara is offering anyone who pre-orders INKapable (or any of the final three INKomplete titles) a chance to win this lovely necklace:
Click here now to get all the details and enter to win!
Mara Malins writes romantic fiction using words that your grandmother doesn’t know. An avid gamer, she battles spreadsheets by day and fiction by night. She lives in Manchester, England with her menagerie of three cats, two turtles, a social media loving partner, and a disobedient garden. If you want to know when her next fiction is released, or see thousands of pictures of her cats sleeping in a variety of different poses, find her on Twitter or Goodreads.