Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happily ever after?

Once upon a time many of the books I read ended with the tried and true assurance that: ‘they all lived happily ever after.’ For years I really wanted to believe it – that if you were good and nice that life would reward you. Conversely – if things went badly it was your own fault. I was raised in the Irish Catholic regime where guilt was encouraged and unworthiness was the birthright of Original Sin.

My early life was not always a rose garden. Far too often it was buffeted by the storms that erupted in those around me and I looked to books for some reassurance and I preferred those stories with strong morals and happy endings.

Since then, my views have changed.

But this remains an issue for anyone who would consider writing because a great many people will expect their investment in reading a story be rewarded and that reward must meet predetermined expectations. Never mind the idea that a good book could open doors and show things from a new perspective – when we consume we want guaranteed satisfaction. I understand that. We live in chaos and will grasp at anything that might help us deny that. I am convinced that too often we read to reinforce our convictions and shun opportunities to broaden or change our views.

That said there is nothing worse that struggling through the mental gyrations of some overly-complex work that cannot make up its mind what it is but there has to be some middle ground in this and in all things.

For me, finding this is the role of good Fiction. It should entice us to take the opportunity to step out from all that we insulate ourselves with and wander through worlds that we would never visit physically. It should challenge us and it should make us different. But too often books are measured by their popularity rather than their effect.

And for many years books that were not popular simply vanished from the shelves – consigned to discount bins and dusty warehouses. Thankfully that is changing. One of the great advantages of ebooks is that there is no cost in keeping the book around until it finds a loving audience. This was the history of Jane Austen’s writing – her early sales were unspectacular but back then, Publishing was more elegant and committed to promoting Literature in all of its forms. Since then, like most human effort, it has become dominated by the instant gratification of immediate profit.

But with change comes challenge and I wonder which path I will take. The responses to my first novel, Lagan Love, have reinforced much of what I have said – some love it for the questions and reflections it provokes and others are uncomfortable with what confronts them in its pages.

Should I be brave and push on and out into all the Fiction can allow or should I find a niche and serve up the same fare over and over?

In the rest of my life I have made a career of saying that; ‘the Emperor has no clothes,’ so I doubt that will change too much but writers, just like the rest of us, do need to eat on a regular basis. But for now my second novel is shaping up much like the first and I look forward to the reactions it evokes. Perhaps, if the Gods and Fate are not offended, I might still have a chance at a ‘happily ever after!’