There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

Central Park has over nine thousand benches. You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but I promise it will all become clear. Most people who head to New York, can’t wait to hit the shops, take in a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, and look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I was no different, but what I didn’t expect, is that all of those things would pale into insignificance for me, when I fell in love. With Central Park.

At heart, I’m a country girl, so maybe it’s no surprise that I loved the oasis of tranquillity that Central Park provides in such a vibrant city. But it fired my imagination in a way that I’d never thought possible. And it was all down to those benches.

Over four thousand of them have been ‘adopted’, which means they’ve had plaques assigned – each one a mini love story in its own right. There were hundreds of them that touched my heart, and, if I’d had the time, I could have spent the entire ten days I was in New York, just wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques. There were proposals, dedications of love, and the marking of every momentous occasion you can imagine. But this was my favourite:

Isn’t that the most beautiful love story you’ve ever read, in so few words? I’d really like to know more about Meg and Wes, but what I do know is that they inspired the idea behind my latest novel The Christmas Shop at Central Park’. When Libby moves to New York to recover from the death of her parents, and takes a job working in a Christmas shop on Seventh Avenue, she reads a message on a bench – from Charlie to Grace – that changes her life.

The benches in Central Park weren’t the only things to influence the story, though. There’s a scene in the novel where the heroine can’t find the Empire State Building, even though she’s standing right in front of it. It happened to me, and I’ve never seen a police officer laugh so hard! But shrouded in mist, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it… Just look how different it looked in these two pictures, taken on the same trip, I think it was a case of being too close to see what was right in front of me, first time around!

Leeds trip – Paula’s in the centre and I’m back left.

 

Four of the characters in the book are named after some friends I met up with on a trip to Leeds, and a throw away comment from someone when we were at that stage of the evening where rash promises are made! I’d gone on the trip with one of my best friends, Paula, and she was probably an even bigger influence on the story than those beautiful benches in Central Park. She’s an absolute inspiration, dealing with health issues which would stop most people, but somehow she keeps grabbing life by the scruff of the neck. One of the main characters in the story represents everything I love about her – intelligence, wit and the absolute refusal to do anything but live life to the full. I’d give Paula her own plaque in Central Park if I could, but for now she’ll just have to settle for having the novel dedicated to her instead.

If you get the chance to spend an hour or ten wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques, you won’t regret it. After all, you can go shopping in any city, but where else will you get the chance to read thousands of mini love stories, all in one place?

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Romance? That’s so 1980s!

Sarah Lewis is our guest blogger this week. Sarah is a die-hard fan of 1980s culture and knows almost all there is to know about the decade when both hair and mobile phones were inordinately bigger, no-one had heard of the internet, let alone blogging, and a fairytale royal romance still looked like it might end in a happily ever after… Sarah runs a 1980s website and blog, which specialises in memorabilia and event planning, and she is just about to finish her first non-fiction book about the era, which will be ready for submission to publishers soon. So, without further ado, we’ll hand you over to Sarah for her take on romance, 1980s style:

Single for 15 years, and often the anti-heroine of my own romantic love story, I was somewhat amused to be asked to write a guest post for The Write Romantics blog. Never one to shirk a challenge, I decided to re-visit a time when, as a naïve teenager, I could still agree with Foreigner when they sang “I Want to Know What Love is”. Let me take you back to the Eighties, and some of the great romances of the decade.

The first image that comes to mind at the mention of Eighties’ romances, is a young Lady Diana Spencer floating up the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, wearing the silk creation of David and Elizabeth Emmanuel. I was ten years old when Diana became the Princess of Wales, and had little trouble falling for the royal pair’s faux fairytale romance. Theirs was by no means the only farcical marriage of the decade. Who remembers Pete Burns’ marriage to his manager, Lynn, or Elton John’s four year marriage to Renate Blauel? Both bride and groom wore white, Elton’s ensemble being topped off with a lilac-trimmed straw boater. In an age of extravagance and excess, where money equated to happiness, and hedonism was positively condoned, we still struggled to believe that our idols were anything other than heterosexual, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. No wonder the likes of George Michael struggled to find love and happiness.

A less traditional wedding, and indeed relationship, which did endure was that of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates. The pair married in their Kentish Priory home in 1986, ten years after they first became a couple. The Boomtown Rats front man ditched his scruffy image for the day, wearing a morning suit and top hat. His peroxide blonde, nymphet bride wore a scarlet, silk, Victorian-inspired masterpiece by Jasper Conran. Paula’s dress left such an impression on me, that I wore a red velvet version of the design on my own wedding day, nine years later.

Wedding

Despite the Geldofs’ divorce in 1996, following Paula’s relationship with INXS singer Michael Hutchence, I believe their love for each other continued. What better proof of enduring love than when Bob adopted Hiraani Tiger Lily, Paula’s daughter by Hutchence, following her untimely death in September 2000?

If we look beyond the froth of silk and lace of the extravagant weddings of the decade, we can find the true romances and successful relationships of the time. A shared sense of humour is often credited as being the key to a successful long-term relationship. This would certainly appear to be so in the case of Lenny Henry and Dawn French, who, despite divorcing in 2010 after 25 years of marriage, remain on good terms. Dawn’s partner in comedy, Jennifer Saunders married fellow comedian Adrian Edmondson in 1985. They are still happily married, as are Billy Connolly and Pamela Stephenson, who married in 1989, having met 10 years previously. These couples show that laughter really may be the best medicine, when it comes to the health of a relationship.

Another element for a relationship’s survival past the Eighties appears to be dodging a brush with the ugly stick. Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley and Banarama’s Keren Woodward, Simon and Yasmin Le Bon, and Martin and Shirley Kemp were all blessed with good looks, and all remain in the relationships they began in the Eighties. Unfortunately for me, this is also the case for my 80’s crush, Paul Young, who was recently quoted as saying he was more in love with his wife than ever. Paul met the beautiful Stacey during the filming of his video for “Come Back and Stay” in 1983. They married in 1987, a time when my life consisted of ‘O’ levels, TOTP and shopping in SNOB. Obviously, if I had been older, I may well have been in with a chance with Mr. Young!

So, until he decides that my home is where he wants to lay his hat, I shall continue to embrace singledom, and look on in wonder at the longevity of romances, once so common with our parents’ generation, now a modern phenomenon. Whatever your personal situation, it is worth remembering the wise words sung by Whitney Houston in 1986, when she covered George Benson’s classic love song: “Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all”.

Find out more about Sarah and to take a journey back to the 1980s with her, check out the links below:

http://www.my-eighties.co.uk/
http://myeighties.wordpress.com/

Or on Twitter at:

@MyEighties