Life’s just not fair is it? Why is it that sometimes people try hard all their lives to do the right things then blow it big style- but for good reasons?
This is a theme I explore in one of the chapters of my forthcoming novel “Our Best Attention”. In it, a woman with a lifetime of struggle and hard work in an unhappy situation, resolves to take an action that is, in fact, a virtual taboo in our culture. It was easy enough to write, in fact the story tumbled out. I found the character concerned to be likeable and pitiable in equal proportions and her predicament rested on almost Victorian circumstances. An echo from the past ringing forward into the 1970s in an uncomfortable way.
This chapter has been read by a number of people and the different reactions to it are striking: male readers tend to dislike it intensely. One found it “too bleak”, another that the central character was “evil and depraved.” Neither was intended. However, female readers, perhaps reacting to the central unfairness of the character’s life, were much more sympathetic. More typical comments were, “that poor woman,” and “what a shame.” That was the reaction that I had hoped to elicit when writing the story. It was certainly how I had felt as the story wrote itself.
Maybe the male reader tends to see bad as bad and the female reader sees beyond the action to the back story: to the whys and hows of life rather than just the whats? A sweeping generalisation of course for which I apologise. Can’t wait to hear more comments on the story after publication though!
I like people with Asperger syndrome, a sweeping statement I know but there it is.
I can’t help how I feel. Of course, like everyone else, there is enormous variability within the syndrome and more to people than just this particular grouping of skills and difficulties. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many hundreds of people at the Asperger end of the autism spectrum over my many years working in this field. This has led me to develop an appreciation for their refreshing style of thought and how it can be manifested in tackling life’s problems.
It was for these reasons that I determined to write a chapter in my forthcoming book, ” Our Best Attention”, about a person with Asperger Syndrome. I wanted to present a positive picture and to write an unfashionably happy ending for the person concerned. In the event this was much easier than it might sound. The chapter wrote itself as the character emerged so strongly in my mind. It is light hearted and pokes fun at some typical “Edinburgh ” types.
As most people with AS are not formally diagnosed, I didn’t specifically mention the syndrome or “diagnose” the person with any particular problems beyond an awkwardness with people and an honesty in the way that they expressed themself. I became very fond of the character as I wrote and keen for them to find a positive niche for themself in the department store in which I set this character.
You will note that I’m being cagy as to the gender of the character concerned. Who is it? Which chapter do they feature in? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’m thinking of offering a small prize for the first person to identify the “Aspie”.
When you’re reading a book what matters most to you? Is it the characters? Location, location, location? Or a compelling storyline? Is it a winning, though rare, combination of all three?
How do you know in advance whether you’ll like a book enough to take the step of opening it and entering into it? Of paying for it, downloading it or taking it out from the library. It’s a risk of course. It’s all a risk. You could have been misled by a good cover, intriguing blurb on the back or previous experience of the writer’s work.
One aspect that can be overlooked is not the part of the writer but that of the reader: the consumer of this product that is a book. The reader’s literacy level may be variable, as can concentration span, time available for reading and reason for looking for something to read.
Sometimes people need to escape into a different, soothing world. Sometimes readers want to be entertained, frightened, intrigued, educated or distracted. The reasons for reading are as innumerable as the readers and may relate strongly to their mood.
So what does this mean for the poor writer simultaneously trying to tick all these boxes?
Just do it! Its all you can do.
Well I’ve done it now. My first book is released in January 2016. Unbelievable! Plucking up courage to tell people I’ve written a book wasn’t easy. There tends to be several reactions: either blank astonishment, a curling lip and disbelief, sometimes compliments and pleasure at my having done it at all, or a flurry of questions about the process.
At times it seems to me that half the people I meet are writing or planning to write a book and the other half is asking how do I do it. Where do I get my ideas from? What gets my writing juices flowing? Why?
No easy answers but it did set me thinking. Now I’ve done a bit more writing and am looking to writing in the longer term I’ve been reflecting on this.
The “how” is quite straightforward. Creating a story seems to me to be like creating a painting, or at least how I would if I ever painted. First I sketch in the outline and characters then I go back over and over it adding in detail to highlight parts that need highlighting or even reducing the contrast so that outcomes can be more surprising when they come. Certain characters need to be delineated with more care than others. Dialogue might need extra work. So on and so on until the day comes when it is finished. That’s the hard part: when enough is enough and it’s time to stop, to let go.
The “where” I find ideas for stories can be the distilled essence of overheard words or phrases, other people’s experiences rethought and retold, half thought notions and lots of what ifs. Sometimes it’s a character or set of characters that appear fully formed in my mind sometimes it’s a situation. Such variety.
Why? Well that’s another story and one I’ve not worked out yet and somehow I suspect I never will.