Saturday, 9 August 2014

There is a discussion going on over at ABBA

(Awfully Big Blog Adventure) about seeing yourself in a novel - in this case Keren David is talking about Jewish characters and how they are often portrayed.

It's a fascinating post and well worth reading - as are the comments.
Did I see myself in any novels as a child? I think I saw myself as I would have liked to be but I never saw myself. In all likelihood someone like me simply did not exist for any writer when I was growing up. Characters like me still don't really exist.
I wanted to be brave - and I wasn't. I am still not in the least bit brave. I wanted to have adventures - but new experiences frightened me. They still do.
And I wanted to meet all sorts of interesting people. I have managed that - although I am always frightened when I have to introduce myself to someone new. What will they really think of me? I like most people - but will they like me? Have I got any right to introduce myself or should I wait for people to approach me?
Have I got friends - or am I just friendly with people? There's a difference - or I think there is.
These sort of people did not appear in books when I was a child.
When I wrote the first book I showed anyone I wrote it for the Whirlwind. She had asked me to write another book about specific characters and one more who had to be, "a little bit me, a little bit you and a bit made up". So I wrote about Ruth who is effectively motherless and has cerebral palsy and anxieties and doubts and determination. I think she is believable. The book worked for the Whirlwind because she was the right age at the time but a person in the book world was right when she said I was "talking down" to the audience. I was - but I was writing it for a child who had just turned nine and the characters were too old - apart from Ruth.
I have written something else since then and I would still like to see it published one day. There is even a sequel sitting at the back of my mind. Chantal is not the main character in the story - although she might be in the sequel. Her brother is the main character in the first story but he depends on his disabled sister.
I admit I was wary of writing about Chantal - and I know it might be one of the things that some people don't like about the book. If Chantal makes them feel uncomfortable then I may have succeeded - but not for the purposes of publication.
And perhaps that is part of the problem. If you write about what being different is really like then people are either going to feel uncomfortable or they will say, "No, it isn't like that. I don't believe you."
 I can remember many years ago having a conversation with Ivan Southall. He had just won the 1971 Carnegie Medal for "Josh".
"It is the hardest thing I have ever written...hard because I was writing so much about myself. It was like skinning myself."
Yes. I understood that then - and I understand it even better now.
It is what writers do. It is what makes good writing difficult.


Miriam Drori said...

That's so true. I really want to write a good story about a character like me. I have tried, but haven't succeeded yet. And no one else will do it.

Anonymous said...

I like Chantal ... and I like that her brother got to stand up for her!