“Can’t you write a nice whodunit?”
This was what my mother asked me when I proudly presented her with my first ever book-baby. It had been out in digital form for a while, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I discovered the wonders of CreateSpace (now part of Kindle Direct Publishing) meaning I could produce a paperback, something real to hold in my hands to sniff and stroke and moon over.
Of course, I gave a copy to my mum. Why wouldn’t I?
To say she was less than thrilled was an understatement.
She was proud of me, of course she was, when I told her I had published a book, although she didn’t understand the concept of digital publishing and ebooks. To her, if she can’t get a copy of the book at the airport, then it’s not real. Therefore, I imagined she would be delighted when I reverently placed a copy of State of Grace in her hands.
My mother read the blurb. Her nose wrinkled a bit. She had that look on her face which people get when they smell something unpleasant. She read the first page, she read the last. She didn’t say anything for a while, then she said, “I don’t like this kind of thing. Can’t you write a nice whodunit?’
Yeah, I know… gutting. All that hard work, those endless hours sweating over a hot computer (and an even hotter leading male character), the steep learning curve, the hundreds of deleted words, and the crying over the less-than-favourable reviews and the dancing around the kitchen when a glowing review pops up on Amazon, the early mornings spent writing before the day job, the endless worry over plot, characters, story arc, plot (again) – all reduced to two small, dismissive sentences.
But then I stopped to think about what she’d said, and a couple of things came to mind. First, could I actually write a police procedural, DI type story? Er… no. I don’t know enough about the police, etc, to even consider it. Secondly, would I want to? Again… no. I’m not too keen on reading that genre, so there’s no way I would be able to get motivated enough or enthused enough to sit at a computer pounding out a thousand plus words day after day.
I have to write what motivates me, what gets my creative juices flowing and, to be honest, death, destruction, and the darker things in life does it for me. Add a bit (okay, a lot) of otherworldly stuff and I’m one happy bunny. I’m never more in the zone than when I’m writing a good death scene. And when writing about vampires and ghosts, there is a fair scope for a bit of dying. Put all this into a medieval setting and a certain period in history where everyone seems happy enough to try to bump everyone else off, and I’m in seventh heaven.
That doesn’t mean to say I don’t enjoy a bit of humour, too (you’ve got to have something to lighten the load and make the darker bits even more stark, haven’t you?) and I usually try to incorporate some humour in my writing. Take Another Kind of Magic, the third book in the Caitlyn trilogy, for instance. Many people who have read it commented on one of the characters, Blod, and how amusing they found her, which warms my dark, little heart.
But the addition of humour isn’t enough to persuade my mum to read it. To this day, my mother hasn’t read my books. They sit in an unmolested, pristine condition hidden away in the dining room which is rarely, if ever, used, as if she is conflicted about her feelings towards them. I believe she would be far happier telling people her daughter is an author if they didn’t ask the inevitable question of what it is I write…
To be fair to her, she does ask me how the writing is going, but she doesn’t feel the need for specifics and I don’t share them with her. We are never going to see eye-to-eye on matters of what she likes to read and what I like to write.
Which brings me neatly to the whole crux of this post – you can’t write for other people. You have to write what makes your heart sing. You have to write those stories that get you out of bed at stupid o’clock in the morning to sit at a desk and get a chapter out of your head and down on paper (word.doc actually, but you know what I mean) before you leave the house to start the day job. Or that wakes you up in the middle of the night with a previously insurmountable plot problem in your head now all nicely worked out and your characters are no longer painted into a proverbial corner and loudly complaining about it, but are whispering in your ear about how you’re going to write them out of this mess. Or those stories which make you come to a complete standstill in the toilet-paper aisle of the supermarket because you’ve had the most marvellous idea/plot twist.
That is what you need to write about, and if it’s blood-dripping vampires or cute bunnies, industrial espionage or baking cookies, the story needs to be, has to be, one you can’t wait to write. Even in the depths of writer’s block or during that dreaded middle part of a manuscript when you’re wondering why you started writing this rubbish in the first place and you have no idea where to go with it next, you still can’t let it go and walk away because this story, this one, is what you’re passionate about.
I realise, now, that it’s okay for neither my mother, my husband, or my daughter to have read my stories, because I don’t write for them. I write for me, and that’s all that matters.
And if you are privileged enough to be in a family with a writer in it (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) give them the confidence, space, and support to write what they want to write. After all, it’s not your story, it’s theirs.
I’ll dedicate the next one to you, Mum, and yes, it will be about vampires – again. Sorry not sorry…