I started writing A Fine Profession earlier this year (back around January time) with the thought that it would standalone. It was simply called The Chambermaid until a little while before publication when I decided that the title was shit. I knew there would be a man who came into this woman’s life and it wouldn’t end all happy-go-lightly. I don’t know if it was just a challenge to myself, really, to write something with an unconventional ending for a change. I guess, what it was now I look back, was that I was in the zone of living and breathing that female character’s voice and words. In her frame of mind at that point in time, there was no happy ending. There couldn’t be.
As a writer, you don’t always set out to do things on purpose. Sometimes in the creative process, things just pop into your head and that takes you off on a number of tangents or brings you back to square one if it just doesn’t quite fit with what you wanted to do with the book as a whole. I am very much an instinctual writer and I go with what I feel works. Whatever feels natural. I guess as a self-published author, you have so much more freedom than you do as a traditionally published one.
So, how do we judge how good a book is? What marks a good book? One we relish diving into to get out of our minds for those few, precious hours? One that we have to really traipse through but with big rewards at the end? There are few books that make you go back and re-read them because they made such an impact. I think the only books I have re-read cover-to-cover are The Color Purple, Story of O, Jane Eyre and The Da Vinci Code. Strange combination eh? Each offer something different. One book that massively affected me was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I remember purchasing it around this time last year and thinking it would be a lovely, typically breezy read. It wasn’t. It was just the way she made this story seem so commonplace and then gave it such a thwack at the end. I guess I didn’t anticipate what she had in store and that made the effect more powerful. I think that goes for films too. I remember my dad always saying to me when I was young, “watch this… it’s really good”. I would moan and groan, “oh, not an old, boring flick of yours”. Two films he told me to watch were Thelma and Louise, and American Graffiti. Both affected me profoundly, maybe because I never anticipated they would be any good.
I was watching a programme about Shakespeare the other day and it always baffles me when some say they are frightened of going anywhere near the bard because it’s just a very difficult language to get to grips with. I had to remind myself that I am very, very lucky to be at grips with it and I am very, very lucky to have studied his work. It was on BBC4, Muse of Fire, and these two fellas went to meet Baz Luhrman in LA to ask him about what influenced his decision to create Romeo and Juliet for the big screen. I remember going to see that film with a friend when I was 14 and coming out of the theatre absolutely traumatised! We both were. Teenage hormones and… then some! It was powerful. I also remember the grade I got for my SATs in that same year. I was in a school where people like me got lost but I got a mark in the top 2% of the country for the stuff I wrote about Romeo and Juliet in those SATs. Silly educators quickly bumped me into the high sets instead. My mum said I could hold an adult conversation at two. Language ingrained? I guess I understand Shakespeare because I can switch off my mind and use my ear and hear the rhythms and the nuances of the poetry that make sense when you don’t think of it as words, but as pictures. So you could say my way of working is individual (bizarre more like), uncontained and erratic, or maybe just a mind figuring out puzzles. I cannot be defined. Will everyone get me? No. Some won’t. Just like many people don’t get Shakespeare. Not because they’re stupid, just because maybe it’s not for them or they haven’t ever come across that archaic language before.
We all experience books differently and sometimes you evoke some powerful reactions in some people and not in others. It all pivots on so many factors. Like I said, the few books I have re-read in my life are very varied! Don’t slap me around for liking Dan Brown either, please!
I guess I judge books for their quality on whether they actually move me. (Dan Brown doesn’t move me but he engages my puzzle loving brain.) So when I was faced with a decision at the end of writing A Fine Profession, I just knew what lay ahead. There was this man who did love Charlotte, the Chambermaid, yet she just couldn’t be with him! Pretty mean and nasty, aren’t I? I put them through the mill.
The truth is, I guess, A Fine Profession fulfilled its purpose within its own potential (or the parameters I set around it inside my mind). I did what I needed to within that book. A Fine Pursuit therefore is separate, though attached. Yet, it stands on its own if it needs to. It is the book I didn’t want to write… and I shall tell you why. I finished the plot and the major pieces of Book One, say, around May time. My mind started picking at what might be wrong with Noah. What is wrong with him? As soon as I sat down and forced myself to contemplate that, I knew exactly what was wrong with him, but I didn’t want to face it. In real life, I am a bubbly, happy-go-lucky type person who enjoys hot chocolate, beach walks and onesies. I didn’t want to take myself inside this man’s head but I had to. Because Charlotte deserved better. Because I needed to take her story onwards. I had such a clear vision of this book but I actually sat at the laptop sometimes, hating the scenarios I was having to thrash out. Literally, hating it. I just somehow lumbered myself with this gigantic responsibility and I had to see it out. I really had to. The challenge gnawed at me so much so, I was frantic with the need to type. The story was begging me to write it because I could see that end goal and that was what beckoned.
But why do we fall…? So we can pick ourselves up again…
All the writers who assume they are pantsers, or that inspiration comes from the heavens, think again. It comes from some ability to instinctively know what you want to do with a story and ultimately, ploughing on until you achieve it. Some subliminal, subconscious skill. Few books I’ve read have left me feeling wrecked afterward but A Fine Pursuit pretty much has. That’s easy for me to say because I wrote it, but I was controlled throughout the writing of it and I researched like hell. There are one or two books a year that have that effect on me (ones I read – and I read a lot) so if I even get one or two people feeling that way about my book(s), I did what I set out to. I set out to move people. Make them uncomfortable. Make them squirm. Take them out of their comfort zones. Job done. I am so lucky to be able to flex my creative muscles. I am lucky to be able to write. It is a privilege.