Literary Lovestories: an anthology of heart-warming, life-changing encounters
By James Brewer
Romance is always in the air, but often struggles to find expression in words. UK publisher and writer Natasha Collins set out through a company she formed named Literary Lifestories to help couples tell the world how their relationships blossomed and flourished.
The first result of her venture is the book Literary Lovestories, a collection of ‘how I met’ tales from the county of Hertfordshire and beyond. In the anthology, 16 couples (a figure chosen to coincide with and herald the 16th year of the millennium) open their hearts to relate a series of ‘happily ever after’ accounts.
Natasha honoured her tryst with the deadline she set herself. She said: “On St Valentine’s Day 2016, I reached my goal and kept my promise. On that day one year earlier I had launched my project. The book launch took place at Waterstones in High Barnet and four dozen copies were sold in just 90 minutes! It was an emotional day for me: the culmination of 12 months of dedication. Many of the couples came to the launch and I was just so happy to have played a part in capturing their love story forever.”
Of the 16 pairs, three couples met online, one couple met while at school, one couple were neighbours, one couple met at a regularThursday night gathering of Club 18 to 30 at High Barnet’s Whalebones venue in the 1950s. A few couples met though youth groups and through friends. One couple met while he was on a call-out to repair her damaged keyboard, and one couple met at a music event in Nashville, Tennessee!
An experienced journalist who has in recent years written about everything from supermodels to insurance markets, Natasha says that the idea for the book “came when one acquaintance asked my husband and me, ‘how did you meet?’ The question came out of the blue and transported us back to a very special time.
“It got me thinking that it might be nice to ask other people that same question, as a feel-good, reminiscing exercise.”
At around that time, Middlesex University’s supportive Enterprise Development Hub, part of the university’s highly rated Business School, assigned to Natasha as a mentor Michaela Hopkins, an encouraging venture guru who inspired her to pursue the love-stories concept as a book for family and friends to showcase her product offering.
Interviewed on BBC Three Counties radio, a regional station, Natasha announced her plan for Literary Lovestories, inviting the public to contact her to tell of their personal experiences, and to star in the book which would be out in time for Valentine’s Day 2016.
“In addition, I approached couples that I knew. So my formula involved spreading the word locally. Further, one person in America saw my call-out via the Association of Personal Historians and so she is featured with her love story, giving her account from Tennessee. How could I say no to her reaching out with her story?
“I asked each couple the same set of questions, such as ‘where did you go on your first date?’ ‘describe your feelings at the time’ and of course ‘how did you meet?’
“The interviews took place by phone or email, or face to face. There was much laughter in the telling of some tales, while some people were philosophical as they gave advice on finding that special someone, or indeed on staying together. It made me chuckle when couples politely disputed facts like anniversary dates with each other.”
For added authenticity, each couple put the publisher in touch with someone who knew them well and asked that friend or family member to describe what made the union unique. “The way each one gave thoughtful accounts was truly remarkable, ” said Natasha.
Lastly, she contacted lecturers at Middlesex University School of Art and Design, explaining that as a graduate from the School of Media and Performing Arts, and current PhD student in creative non-fiction, she was looking for an illustrator. The artist’s brief was to draw each couple’s joint portrait from their favourite photo. “Jordon Thompson (illustrator) and Beverley Speight (graphic designer) were sent my way. They proved to be outstanding.”
Natasha said: “What struck me the most about the exercise was how, from the perspective of story-telling, we build up to a moment of big change, where everything transforms for the two people involved from then on. It’s the moment they meet the one who becomes an important part of their life. Where they go on to marriage and children, there is a complete turn-around: it’s really thrilling.” Turning a life story into a biographical tale can be the balm needed to understand and empathise, says Natasha.
She maintains: “We need more positive narratives out there, in a world where negative storylines are given centre-stage. There are examples all around us of enduring, true love, keeping our societies together like the cement in the walls of a house. The love stories featured in this book are not necessarily shining examples of the best relationships, but they are ordinary tales, a sample of ‘coupledom’ across Hertfordshire and beyond.”
As to Natasha’s own romantic fulfilment, in a blog she once wrote: “I have a husband and soul-mate who appreciates my diversity and encourages my various outlooks on this great, wonderful, difficult, inspiring thing we call life; and I absolutely adore him for that. He tells me that I am many things, and boring isn’t one of them.”
Literary Lovestories aims to “touch the hearts of romantics young and old, attached and unattached.” A donation from each sale goes to the relationship counselling charity Marriage Care, whose details are at www.marriagecare.org.uk
Literary Lovestories can be ordered at http://literarylifestories.