When reality gets in the way of a good idea – Eithne Shortall

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By Eithne Shortall

An original idea is a rare and wonderful thing. When you hit upon it, there’s a feeling of great satisfaction. Until, that is, pesky reality starts to creep in.♥

I knew the premise for Love in Row 27 was original before I had even considered turning it into a book. What if you ended up seated beside the love of your life on an aeroplane? And what if a matchmaking check-in attendant had put you sitting there?

That is the novel’s premise. Cora is the check-in attendant, distracting herself from her own problems by meddling in the love lives of her passengers. She puts unsuspecting travellers sitting together, and Nancy, an air hostess, keeps an eye on developments in the air. Some matches work out, some don’t, and some frequent flyers find themselves subjected to several blind dates.

Not long after this idea came to me – somewhere over England, flying from Paris to Dublin – so too did the potential plot holes. That’s what happens when you set a story in the real world. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where there’s enough imagination, there’s a solution.

Problem: Most people check-in online now and choose their own seats, so romantic check-in attendants don’t get a say.

Solution: I thought about setting the book in the pre-internet past. But what the internet has taken away from us in terms of random seat allocation, it was going to give to Cora in terms of a resource for researching her potential matches and deciding who might work well together.

So instead, I opened the book with an email sent from management to all staff at Heathrow airport. The email alludes to a shortcoming in the airport’s security and the need to suspend self-check-in for a year. For the next 12 months, passengers will have to present themselves to check-in attendants. Perfect.

Problem: How will Cora, on the ground, communicate with Nancy, in the air, when you’re not allowed make phone calls mid-flight?

Solution: For this, I got in touch with a professional. Through Twitter, I tracked down an airline employee who graciously agreed to answer my questions on the particulars of air travel and airhostessing. She told me the height of regulation heels, how nepotistic airports can be, and how there is a phone on every aeroplane that can be connected to ground staff if the operations controller at the airport agrees. Thankfully Nancy has an excellent pair of legs, and my operations controller has a soft spot for good pins.

Problem: Why would an Irish airline fly from Heathrow to so many destinations?

Solution: The truth is, it wouldn’t. Love in Row 27 is set around Aer Lingus. I chose the Irish airline because it was the one with which I was most familiar with, and because I like it. The only destinations they fly to from Heathrow are within Ireland. But I wanted to open up the scope of the book and the cast of characters. I have people from America, Sweden, England flying to Scotland, Holland, Belfast. This love story has no boundaries.

Reality is a demanding master. But every now and again, it’s good to give in to a little imagination.

Eithne Shortall studied journalism at Dublin City University and has lived in London, France and America. Now based in Dublin, she is an arts journalist for the Sunday Times newspaper. She has been a committed matchmaker from an early age and, when not concerning herself with other people’s love lives, enjoys sea swimming, cycling and eating scones.


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