Emma Calin's Knockout! took me to France and for the first time in my life, I finally got to understand what the big deal is with Paris and romance.
Sandra Brown, one of the most recognized names in Romance once agreed with a critic that romantic novels are predictable; they almost always have a happy ending. And what's wrong with that?
Like most men, I often passed on romance novels. Men are not exactly programmed to delve into the intricacies of love so profoundly after all. However, when Romance is an aspect of a story, enriched by other elements of fiction, the result is akin to an artist employing different pallets to bring their vision to light.
An Interpol heroine, the promise of a hopeless vortex of sexual and emotional passion, and a boxer as the good guy? It was easy to make the decision to read it.
From having written a novel set in a place I'm fascinated by, I can tell Paris has a special place in your heart. What did you hope to convey about Paris to your readers?
EC: Paris is definitely my favourite city, although there are many cities that I have not yet visited! France is a relatively short distance from the UK so Paris is quickly accessible.
It's by no means accidental that Paris is the city of lovers and I think the reason for this is rooted far more profoundly in the human spirit than we realise. It is a northern city, often under grey skies and yet many restaurants have outside terraces. There are many outdoor street markets, stalls etc selling art and of course the famous 'Bouquinistes' with their second hand books along the left bank of the Seine. This incongruence doubly serves as a metaphor for the experience of love which exists as a bloom or a splash of red on the monochrome background of life. I do not think that this is always realised about Paris.
Another feature of Paris is of course its atmospheric connection to passion and romance through the generations – from the bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom and love to the culture of Edith Piaf and her Love-or-Nothing songs, the ambience is still there.
Its river, historical buildings and its Haussmann boulevards are all beautiful in themselves. Then there are the gourmet aspects of Paris with its world famous cuisine.
I wanted to convey this excess of passion and love in Knockout! So Paris was the perfect backdrop for the most romantic of Anna and Freddie's encounters.
Recently I picked out a selection of romantic phrases from Knockout! I linked them together as a prose poem from Anna to Freddie and read and recorded it for a 'videoetry' production on Youtube 'Our Love in Paris'. It is set to a backdrop of photos from my own trips to Paris.
Un beau lieu de mémoire... Easy to understand this eternal love affair with Paris, such an ideal backdrop for some major fireworks. I've come across reads where the IT couple had little or no chemistry, especially in the dialogue, but that was never a problem between Anna and Freddie. Was it difficult to steer their emotions for one another as their relationship progressed?
EC: Anna's character was built around a type of emotion that I think is more typically female. Within her was a vacuum that had developed over a long period and was always ready to implode uncontrollably. In the case of Freddie he had no such pre-existing need and in fact had set out to pick up a pretty girl in pursuit of his own ends. However, he had never met a woman with whom he found such a genuine rapport and was unprepared for his emotional response to her. What happened then was that both of them lost control but for entirely different reasons. She because of her need which she had always handled so well, and he because of his inexperience in controlling such profound emotion.
And yet, as an author, you controlled the uncontrollable so well. Romance fiction inevitably calls for steamy scenes, which are some of the most difficult elements to write in a novel. There's such a fine line between sexy and vulgar or erotic and pornographic, and it's a feat to balance the physical and emotional aspect of every sensation. What inspired the love scenes in Knockout?
EC: I think that all of us, women in particular, seek that factor in physical love which the French call 'la tendresse'. I like to create eroticism in the way that you see dolphins or killer whales in smooth water – everything is calm and then you see the water rise, a smooth edge and then a sharp fin come up momentarily and disappear again. When I am writing a love scene this is how I like it to be – 3 elements – the smooth water, the graceful rise of the body and then a jagged aspect of the beast – before it disappears again below the surface, so that you get a feeling for the real thing without actually ever seeing the whole animal.
I will not lie. It took a long time to get past that last answer. I had to accept defeat, for I had nothing to write about it, but know my reaction was a whispered Wow... What's behind the pages of Knockout?
EC: I wanted to write a suspenseful romance with an exciting plot as well as a compelling love story. There had been a lot of attention paid to match fixing in many sports around the time I was thinking about starting the book - particularly in boxing. My good friend Oscar Sparrow is an ex-cop and was able to give me a lot of inside information about how Interpol works and politics within the police service. I was able to draw on my own insights into boxing as well as my personal feelings for a romantic heroine and blend this with my insider police information. I wanted to leave the reader an idea and hope that uncontrolled love does exist and can end well. I wanted to reveal the melody and beauty of love expressed physically. I also wanted to dig out that aspect of a Piaf song – that Love-or Nothing as an ambition is better than caution and half a thing.
The gambling over the outcome of sports was an interesting twist. For my male brain, these aspects enriched the story more than I expected. It was more than a romance.
For those of you who've read these blog posts, one question is reserved for characters, and it's usually not about the main character that one normally expects, but there are exceptions. Especially when the character is as fascinating as the main man in Knockout. Emma, is there a real Freddie LaSalle?
Emma: There is unfortunately, no real Freddie in my life but I have known some very sexy cultured men and my South London roots exposed me to the life around boxing and many of these men were physically compelling! Freddie is a wish list composite. Of the two, the man with the best words is always more attractive to me.
I did not expect Emma's captivating writing voice to flow through her responses the way it did. I found myself reading and rereading just to soak up every sentence.
Knockout! is Emma's baby, but I'm looking forward to getting that textual embrace from her words in Escape to Love, as well as and
I promised myself I would not employ certain cliches even though a title like Knockout! just begs for it but... you will find a swift right hook to the heart behind the pages of Knockout!
I know I did, and I enjoyed the fall to the mat.
Javier A. Robayo
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