Simply put, I had done my job. Every book holds an unspoken contract between the writer and the reader in which the reader agrees to undertake a journey, on the condition that the writer doesn’t flippantly exploit or manipulate their emotions, and I felt the love story between Cassie and Henry was both rounded and full-bodied, moving from pain and yearning, through confusion to clarity and understanding. It would not have been a surprise to the majority of readers that they ended up together – most would have guessed the ending within a page of first reading about Henry – but very few would have been able to forsee how they would get there. The journey was the destination, you might say, and bringing them together was all the happy ending anyone wanted.
But to write a sequel and go beyond that point requires a deconstruction, a dismantling of that happiness. Tension and pace depend upon conflict, not contentment, and unlike those lucky thriller writers who can rely on a never-ending supply of dead bodies and subsequent ‘whodunnit’ puzzles to make the pages turn, Romance writers have to find a plot within their characters’ relationships and I wasn’t prepared to undo everything I had so carefully built up in the first book; I didn’t want to undermine the validity of their love or have them descend into the break up/make up farce of soap opera.
As time passed though and I wrote more books, each one looking at love from a different angle, my interest started to shift. I began to think about life after love, not just those years, months and weeks leading up to it – it’s great hearing the excitement of how a couple gets together, but isn’t the telling of how they stay together every bit as enthralling? Even the ‘truest’ love won’t follow a flawless, uncomplicated path as external pressures such as money, work or bereavement impinge, and it reminded me of something I was once told – that love is proven not in the good times, but the hard ones.
I took another look at my supposedly-perfect Happy Ending. So they got engaged? That wasn’t the end of their story, it was really just the end of their beginning. Several years on, where would they all be now? After all, no-one moves on after a decade of marriage and the most terrible betrayal that Cassie suffered, without a backwards glance, even if they do have someone like Henry helping them through it. The heart is a complicated thing – it doesn’t necessarily love in chronological order, sometimes there is overlap; people feel vulnerable or confused, the timing might be off.
I began to wonder again, the ‘what ifs’ starting up in my mind: Cassie and Henry had found each other, she had found herself, they were perfectly in synch with one another. But what if in the passing of time they found they wanted different things? Or the same thing but at different times? There’s no doubt their love is true but can they make it endure? An engagement ring is not just a ring; it comes with promises attached. It closed the first book with a Happy Ending, but if I wanted Cassie and Henry to be deserving of their Happy Ever After, those promises needed to be enacted and that was when I knew I’d found my sequel.