I was messing about on Facebook, as writers do, when I saw this link to an article in the Guardian. It summed up very nicely why I read what I read and why I try and write cheerfully.
In a nutshell, Victoria Coren Mitchell says there’s too much awfulness in current affairs at the moment and not enough sand to bury your head in. So she gives us lots of lovely things instead – pictures of Cornwall on a sunny day, the Queen parachuting into the Olympic Stadium and so on. Thank you, Victoria. Gold star for thoughtfulness. And taste (nice to see P G Wodehouse in there).
Too much awfulness is why I don’t read books about ‘real characters’ and ‘real life’. I get real life in the day job, thanks. I come home exhausted from other people’s real lives. Literature might be about deft character portrayal and the god-awfulness of their situations, but I don’t want that when I’m tucked up nice and warm under my duvet last thing at night. Most mornings I get that when the radio wakes me up anyway. It was a van mowing down a group of men outside a mosque in Finsbury Park today.
What I want is a bit of escapism, the thought that two people who love each other very much might live happily ever after, or that a dogged if flawed detective will catch the serial killer who’s been terrorising Barnsley. Is that too much to ask?
So how do you turn bad things into happy things on the page? Find the positive spin and use positive words. Use an antonym dictionary if you have to.
The first story I sold was about a man who was grieving for his only son. He hadn’t smiled or laughed for months. I sold this to The People’s Friend who are known for being upbeat. So how did that work?
I counterbalanced Don, the main character, with the son’s girlfriend who was a ray of sunshine and who ultimately helped him to get over his grief by painting a beehive (it’s a long story). Everything about Sofie, the girlfriend, was uplifting, from the sun which ‘glittered in her hair’ in the first paragraph to her willing Don to say ‘yes’ right at the end.
It’s about finding a form of words and trying not to be too miserable: there’s enough misery about as it is.