As I completed my latest novel (‘A Way of Knowing’, due to be published shortly), it struck me that I’m guilty of giving my male leads one common characteristic: they all love to cook, and/or are competent cooks. I also have a theme running somewhere in my head about the ironing of shirts.
My first short story to be published, back in the 1990s, hinged on the theme of a woman (clearly in a very unhappy marriage, with an over-controlling and critical husband) who finally recognises that her marriage is a sham when she fails to iron one of said husband’s shirts to his satisfaction. The same scenario crops up in ‘The Swan Widow’. When I realised I’d incorporated another reference to this is the latest book, I promptly hit the delete key!
So I’ve been asking myself: why do I have a ‘thing’ about men who can cook, and want their shirts ironed to perfection by the women in their lives?
Probably a combination of wishful thinking and autobiography. I’m not one of nature’s enthusiastic cooks. My family members have never starved or gone down with food poisoning, but I’ve always regarded cooking as a necessary evil – and have never managed to marry a man who can do much more than wield a tin-opener. My father was probably at least as competent as my mother in the kitchen, but hardly a role model for all my fictional men who can whip up cordon bleu meals without breaking a sweat. So very much a case of ‘Oh, I wish…’!
The recurring theme of shirts is more obscure. Again, I regard ironing as something to be avoided except in dire necessity, and when I inherited a household that had ‘a woman in’ to iron everything – and I mean EVERYTHING: she even ironed socks – I soon put a stop to that. ‘Minimum care’/’non-iron’ are my favourite labels. Needless to say, I raised my sons to iron their own shirts if they needed ironing (as did my father – he even ironed my school blouses). So not quite sure where this trope originates.
My modern-day knight in shining armour can clearly handle the griddle-pan and the iron as competently as the sword (and keep his own armour polished, by the way). His skills in the kitchen and utility room are possibly as important as his skills in the bedroom, as far as my female characters are concerned.
I realise that this puts me beyond the pale as far as many readers of mainstream romantic fiction are concerned, but hey, it would be a tedious and monochrome world if we all lusted after the same men.
Vive la difference!