This month I have the honour of sharing an open space event with fellow Honno author Jo Verity at Cardiff library (on 17th January, if you are interested). It’s an exciting opportunity to discuss my work and also, understandably, a nerve-wracking prospect. Don’t get me wrong – I love my books and I love writing and I am always delighted to talk to people who have actually READ the books. That’s a plus. But these stories, and these characters, however they may seem to me, their creator, are no longer simply mine once they are in the public domain. People respond differently depending on how they see the stories. And there are challenges to be met – particularly when, like me, you feel compelled to write about complex, unlikeable characters who epitomise aspects of life’s struggles and represent a critique of our social structures.
Ash, my second novel, has been described by one read as a “dark but satisfying read.” Not that I read the reviews – like most authors I avoid them and rely on friends and family to give me a heads up if anything particularly nice or particularly troubling is said about my work. There are plenty of trolls out there (many of whom are ex-friends or ex-lovers, sadly) who are happy to trash authors and criticise them. It is only too real, the potential that the general reader, too, will be less than satisfied with my work.
What makes a good story? I am often asked this, along with, where do you get your ideas from? And, of course, how much of the story is based on you? These are good questions. I won’t answer them all here. I leave it to the reader to identify what makes a good story for them, and all writers write from their own experience and perspective. Certainly, there is a romantic view of the novelist, I feel, which is both tragic and heroic. All we are really trying to do, I suppose, is express the feelings and the stories in the best way possible.
Maybe the stories exist independently, out there in the ether, and we are simply the conduits. Maybe, as some authors suggest, we simply observe, stealing character traits, mannerisms, expressions and plots from the people and the world around us, remaking them over and over again. It is a mysterious process, one which, after two postgraduate degrees in Creative Writing, I still think is mostly born of tears and torment, loosely shaped by style and discipline.
Even so, as I prepare to ‘meet the public’ again this month, my greatest hope is that I contribute to someone else’s experience. That perhaps they learn something new, feel something different, or relate to some aspect of my stories. That is all I concern myself with.
Do come along on 17th January and meet some authors. We don’t bite.