Friday, July 27, 2012
This week I have given my first full interview about the story of When I Fall in Love, including a hint at the secret I want readers to discover. But how easy has it been to withhold this information?
The answer is, very!
As a writer I always want there to be aspects of the stories I write to be discovered by my readers as they are reading them. It's the reason I try not to read a lot of reviews of books before I read them: I think too many reviews today are actually full-blown synopses of the story rather than a reviewer's personal response to the experience of reading it. Part of the magic for me as a reader is to discover all the surprises, twists and turns of the narrative that the author has worked so hard to build into their story. As a writer, I want my readers to have the same experience.
When I Fall in Love, I have deliberately kept back a key detail of Elsie Maynard's life for you to discover in the story. It was a brave decision for me - and one which I agonised over a great deal as I wrote it. You may guess what it is before it is revealed - in which case, great - but essentially I wanted it to be something you learn about her. If I had revealed it at the beginning of the story (or written it in the blurb on the back of the book), I think it would have given Elsie a label she shouldn't have before any reader was able to get to know her. I really love Elsie's character: she's by no means a victim of her circumstances and has an immensely positive view of life, which when the key detail is revealed makes her even more remarkable, I think. Also, the way in which she reveals the secret is one of the scenes I'm proudest of in my entire writing career to date, and the thrill of the punch when it comes (especially considering who it's delivered to) was just too delicious to resist revealing it this way. I promise you, it'll be worth the wait!
What I wasn't expecting from this decision, however, was a problem it has presented me with in terms of talking about the story. Holding back this key detail about my main character has meant that I've had to be a bit more creative with how I tell people about my book - and it's been a little bit frustrating because I know so much more than I can say! It's definitely the deepest book I have written so far and has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. I think it's a real rollercoaster ride, with my motley crew of comic characters set against a touching, real storyline about moving on in life which I hope will resonate with my readers. It feels like a risk even more now that When I Fall in Love is on its way to be printed and we near 100 days to publication, but I'm taking a deep breath and trusting my gut instinct. I am confident that, when you read it, you will understand why I've kept back the secret about Elsie's former life - and love her even more for knowing it!
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
There has probably been too much already written about the meteoric success of E.L James' Fifty Shades of Grey series, so apologies for adding to the column inchage. But there is an aspect of the reaction to the book that concerns me, and I feel I need to say it...
First of all, let me make this clear: I have nothing against the books themselves, nor the success of the author. It is great that she has created something people want to read. The hype is another thing altogether, but that's just the media and publishing industry hauling themselves onto the bandwagon and is to be expected, given the success of the books. So if you are reading the 50 Shades series and enjoying it, great. I hate the 'you must/must not read this book' brigades and will defend the reader's right to choose what he or she reads to the end. Everyone is entitled to read whatever they want to: if 50 Shades of Grey is your thing, go for it.
But I am worried by some of the response from some readers. Recently on twitter, facebook, blogs and forums, there have been increasing examples of women expressing a wish that they could 'have someone control me like Mr Grey controls Ana'. One example I saw this week said: 'I wish Mr Grey would teach me how to do what he wants', while another proclaimed, 'You've got to love a man who can control you!'... Now, of course I am well aware that the majority of women who read these books understand fully that it is a work of fiction and that Christian Grey is just a fantasy figure. But there are a vocal few who seem to believe that he embodies everything they should desire in a man.
Between two consenting adults - and by 'consenting' I mean both people fully aware of and fully comfortable with the decision - the kind of sex portrayed in the book is fine. The problem comes when one person is controlling the situation and the other feels pressured into taking part. In reality, a controlling partner is not sexy. Someone who tells you how to think, feel, dress, act and react is not doing it out of love for you. They are doing it to make themselves feel better, to deal with issues they carry.
This is where it gets personal to me. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for nearly eight years, with a partner who controlled everything about me. It was professed to come from a place of love, but it made my life a living hell. Because I loved him - and genuinely believed (in the beginning at least) that he was doing it all for my own good - I spent years enduring debilitating abuse and held my silence day after day, month after month. I was always told that I 'needed a man who would take charge' - someone who 'knew what was best for me' - and I believed this. But take it from somebody who knows: a man who takes pleasure in controlling you is not someone you should be getting into a relationship with.
My concern comes from a place of understanding. I know how attractive it can appear to have someone so seemingly powerful and interested in every aspect of your life. So part of me understands why some women - and I stress some - are openly wishing for a real-life Mr Grey. But a real man doesn't need to belittle you, curb your character or control your every waking moment in order to 'show his love' for you. My concern is that a significant minority of women reading the book might think this type of behaviour is acceptable in real life. It's not and never will be. Nobody has the right to tell you what to think, feel or be except you. Giving that much power to anyone is dangerous: in a relationship it can be devastating.
It hasn't been an easy decision to write this, but nobody else seems to be saying it, so I feel I have to. If it's dismissed by most as an overreaction, but stops one woman from entering into a potentially abusive situation, it's worth it. If you are reading this and you know you are already in a controlling or emotionally abusive situation, there is a way out. Contact Women's Aid for free, confidential information, advice and a 24-hour helpline. I found the courage to leave - and life is brilliant on the other side.
Enjoy the books if you read them. Get involved with the characters in the story and see it for the fictional story that it is. Keep the controlling Mr Grey where he belongs: in a fictional fantasy - and don't invite him into your real life. Thank you for reading.
Friday, July 6, 2012
This year I'm taking you behind the scenes of writing, editing and publishing my fourth novel, When I Fall in Love. This week, I'm checking the proofs for the novel and answering more of your fab questions!
In other news, I think I might just have come up with the idea for my fifth (Fifth!!) novel... No title yet, but the main characters now all have names (which I've dutifully Googled to make sure I'm not nicking a famous person's moniker) - and in this week's vlog I'll tell you a little bit about how I chose them. It's an exciting time, dreaming up a brand new story, and it's the bit I look forward to most every year.
I went down to HarperCollins HQ last week and heard about lots of exciting plans coming up for my website and to accompany the release of When I Fall in Love. If everything comes off it will be awesome and there will be lots of exciting goodies in store for you!
Have you entered my ChoirStars competition yet? The winners will sing at my swanky London book launch and will all receive signed first edition copies of When I Fall in Love. I'm extending the deadline to TUESDAY 31ST JULY so now is the time to get your YouTube video links in! You have nothing to lose - go for it!!
So here is this week's vlog - hope you love it! Remember, you can always ask me a question and I'll answer it next time. It can be about anything - ask away!
p.s. This week's YouTube-nominated freeze-frame is entitled: 'Sha-a-a-a-ZAMMM!'