I think it’s fair to say my writing verges on the dark. I can do amusing, light stuff from time to time, I’m aware of the need to balance but, generally speaking, I’m interested, moved and inspired by the challenges we face in life. I’m not sure if that’s because of my own life, or that of those around me. But I do know I spend a lot of time thinking about the things people say and do, the choices they make – big and small – and the way we all move, change and grow (or not) through life.
So when I sent my latest MS to a friend to read, I had not for a second considered that the content might make difficult reading for her. Or that perhaps, it wasn’t in her best interests to read it. You can’t always know the details in peoples life, not everyone is free and happy to share everything in a Facebook post, despite what my timeline sometimes suggests, and as such, you can’t always anticipate people’s triggers.
So, my first response to her telling me she was finding it difficult was to feel awful I had put her in that position. In asking her to read my work, I had exposed her to feelings she would probably rather leave alone. I felt so bad.
My next thought was how do I apply this in life, because she won’t be alone in her experiences. Her association will be closer than some, and more distant than others. Indeed, one of the aspects in my story is something I have seen myself, albeit on the periphery, but in one particular case, it had a profound impact on me. Does this mean my work has limited commercial value? And if so, what does that mean?
I love to read books that immerse me in the honesty of someone’s life. If a book moves me, I fall in love with it in an instant. It’s not so much that I search for drama… those who have known me many years may smile wryly at that… but more that I am drawn to stories of life and humanity in all its darkest forms. It makes me feel alive I guess. It makes me know I’m not alone. It helps me to explore, question and in some cases, resolve things about the world that otherwise, I might ignore. Because it hurts.
So I asked myself this question: Do I make a change? To make myself more commercially viable, and maybe more attractive to an agent, a publisher, should I be moving from my natural default in order to get my foot through the door? And that was the moment my little heart sank, because, whilst I’m perfectly capable of conforming in life, I think there are times we sort of have to; to survive, I don’t think I can see myself managing to write a book that has heart and integrity if I don’t follow my natural direction. It was this moment, as I perused the world food aisle in my local Asda – it’s remarkably good considering – that I realised, I can’t actually do that. It’s not that I don’t want to as such, just that I can’t. I have tried writing fun and frivolous, but it just doesn’t, for any length of time, come out right. And the stories and characters that come to mind, I can’t help the direction they take. I could shape them differently, but it just wouldn’t feel right. It’s why I couldn’t make the second book work. It’s why writing this one was so hard. And as a result, I guess there is a very real chance it may never get picked up by an agent. It may never see the light of day via a traditional publisher, in print, in my local book shop. And that’s not okay, but it’s not enough ‘not okay’, for me to do anything else.
At the moment, my MS is with an editor for a full critique. Depending on their response, I will tweak, develop, then slush. I will keep everything crossed that somebody has faith that it might appeal to somebody somewhere. That the reaction of my beta-reader is one that people can overlook because perhaps in other cases, it will impact differently. It’s not at all that I want to upset people, that is the very last thing I want to do. But I do believe in this book. In the thought at its core.
Once upon a time, I met a man. He was the most generous, thoughtful and bright individual I have ever had the pleasure to meet. He did not judge, or so it felt. And I suspect that had he ever, he’d forgive himself because he knew was human. It is not if we judge, but what we do with our judgement. In the fleeting time our paths crossed, he taught me that ‘It’s all allowed.’ That we are human. That we feel how we feel and we should not judge ourselves too harshly for how we respond to things, but perhaps forgive ourselves. And those around us. Because we are all vulnerable and beautiful and hurt and stupid and lovable and bright and frightened and frightening and judgmental and judged and more. When he took his own life, I was confused and cross and sad. Because there are not enough beautiful people like him in this world. The world had lost someone who spread love, regardless of where it fell. The world didn’t save him. And I cried. There was a part of me that felt bad at how much I cried. I mean really, I barely knew him. What right did I have to an opinion over his choices? What right did I have to mourn him the way I did? But it was (and remains) very real to me, and in the end, the only way I could move on, was to remind myself ‘it is all allowed.’ And learn we can’t always save people. Or maybe that sometimes saving them means letting them go.
Ultimately, I realise, that is what my latest book is about. It is dark. It is sad. But it is honest. And if that means it isn’t commercially viable for a debut Author, then so be it. ‘It’s all allowed.’