I have now finished Hornby’s Juliet Naked – I continued to chuckle to the end. I love the way he persuades his characters to reveal their worst, yet the writing is so tenderly ironic that you go on loving humanity all the same.
This morning straight into Faulks on Fiction. I am only a few pages into the Introduction, yet I am already making triumphant squeaks of agreement and admiration. Faulks suffered from people persistently unwilling to believe that he had ‘made it up’ when he wrote Birdsong. Though in a somewhat different league, I was shaken to hear that a reading group I had been to talk to, from an area about 20 miles from my home, had disapproved of my first novel at a later meeting. They ‘knew’ that I had based the story on two local disabled people – a couple I had never heard of or met.
The other very recognisable experience for an author is of having their writing judged entirely on how closely it fits with the reader’s personal experience. I am flattered when readers recognise themselves in my writing. I am also astonished at what they find in my text. So strong is the tendency to translate through a personal viewfinder, that you can hear your own story relayed back to you in an unrecognisable form: the main role given to one of your minor characters; jealousy supplied as a motive, where only boredom had been evident; scenes relocated; names changed. (All this and I have only published two novels on a very small scale).
The is another reaction from readers that bothered me at first. If you mention an aspect of of a character, anything from a skill (eg playing a violin) to a handicap (eg being deaf), people are miffed if you stray from the stereotype or their personal experience. So if John, your violinist, is pernickety about dress, the reader will point out that they know three violinists who are totally carefree about clothing. If your deaf character, Sophie, is an extrovert who likes to party, you will have conversations that run: ‘I actually have a deaf friend, and she much prefers one-to-one encounters because then she can lipread.’ ‘Sure, but my Sophie character cares more about the warmth of social contact than words.’ ‘But surely that’s not true for most deaf people.’ ‘Maybe not, but I’m not writing about most deaf people, I’m writing about Sophie.’ Half the fun of writing is to fight your way out of these corners.
I am really looking forward to the meat of the Faulks book on fiction, and I am hoping that some of Hornby’s lightness and sureness of touch will rub off onto my own writing.