A Change is as Good as a Rest
Wednesday 4 June 2014
~For fourteen years I’ve written a book a year, in the genre that no one can precisely categorise. Romantic comedy? Commercial women’s fiction? Chick lit?
I wrote about contemporary women and their relationships with their husbands, lovers, parents, siblings, friends and children; importantly there’s always a love story at the heart. I’ve adored writing every one and I’ve been lucky enough to have had great support from my publishers throughout.
Why then was I mad enough to laugh in the face of the old idiom, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” by changing genre? Do I have a death wish?
My latest novel Spare Brides is easy to categorise, it’s a historical novel. Set in 1920 it follows the lives of four friends dealing with the tragic aftermath of WW1. Changing genre feels a lot like writing a debut; I’m excited and frankly terrified! It sounds crazy but when I started out I wasn’t aware I was writing within a genre. The phrase chick lit hadn’t been coined and publishing wasn’t as marketing-led as it is today, a definition wasn’t essential.
After writing about 7 books I realised it might be tricky to convince anyone – publishers, fans, me! - I could and should write in another genre. How I admire clever people like Joanne Harris, who laugh in the face of categorization, or Kate Atkinson who writes so sublimely no one cares what she writes as long as she does it!
While changing genre I kept sane by reminding myself OK, so the clothes, homes, social, academic and financial circumstances of the women are different to those I usually write about but, importantly, the crux remains the same. The women in Spare Brides are scared, truthful, brilliant, flawed, sexy, hopeless and hopeful. They’re like contemporary women. I concentrated on what I knew - characterisation.
Next, I immersed myself in the period. I visited countless museums to look at the era’s clothes, vehicles, art and furniture. I read newspapers, adverts, propaganda, fiction and non-fiction of and about the time. I couldn’t take anything for granted, how they spoke, how their underwear fastened, what they ate had to be researched. Interestingly, after gaining this enormous wealth of knowledge, had to make it disappear. No one wants to read a novel stuffed full of facts and lessons. My research had to be unobtrusive background.
The more I researched the women of this generation the more I admired them. Spare Brides is very close to my heart, because I’m not only telling the stories of the women I’ve invented, but of a generation of women who endured the unimaginable with such dignity. Hundreds of thousands never married as a direct consequence of the war. They didn’t have children or grandchildren; their stories were not passed on verbally, finding life in the head and hearts of offspring, the way women’s stories often do.
Their disappointments and suffering, their dreams and achievements were silenced; forgotten.