WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
We’re all familiar with critics gifted with second sight. Art historians, when viewing a work by an Old Master, will often read all kinds of things into the artist’s life. ‘That particular flick of paint denotes the precise moment when he left his wife to take up with Mistress X,’ for example. It happens with writers too. I often wonder, if Shakespeare were to reappear in 2015, what he’d have to say about the stuff written about him. Would he concur, or would he say (in modern parlance) ‘Just hang on a minute.’ I guess the bigger question is what kind of artist/writer/musician you think you are.
Whatever the genres, most writers, subconsciously or not, are saying: ‘This is my take on the world and how I think people operate’ and hope to hell that readers will buy into it. This is writing at its most basic, yet there are so many variations on a theme, not all of them explored here.
Clearly, there are those who are uniquely qualified to write certain types of books. Plenty of former soldiers and spies pen riveting tales of espionage. Their stories have that special note of authenticity, yet it doesn’t mean that they have lived the experiences outlined in their novels. Not that it matters if we think they have. If it helps with hooking us into the story, believe what you like.
Some writers use their books to deliver messages. Their stories, driven by strong views, (the political system or environment favourites) are designed to ‘illuminate’, dare I say ‘educate’. Main protagonists tend to be passionate proponents of chosen idea or theme and there is usually a big ‘I told you so’ at the end of the novel. I reckon writers like this require immense skill to avoid polemic. Hats off to the few who pull it off.
I’m sticking my neck out but I reckon the majority of crime authors write for sheer entertainment value. They want to blow your socks off with surprise after surprise (optionally guns blazing) with a narrative that is pace perfect and leaves you giddy. If you want to delve into the murkier goings-on in the human psyche, look no further, yet it doesn’t mean that the average crime writer has robbed a bank, run a drug empire, or murdered his or her mother.
Theoretically, psychological thriller writers are a gift to critics who want to read more into the mind behind the pen. But does it mean that, if you write a book about stalking, you have been stalked? If you craft a story about dysfunctional relationships, you are in one? It’s as daft as stating that no holds barred sex scenes in X-rated novels are the result of serious research involving whips, nipple clamps and swinging naked from chandeliers.
Having said this, writers do return again and again to themes that interest or trouble them. Loss and loneliness are front-runners and, in this regard, I’m no exception. The legacy of loss features heavily in my forthcoming novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ and I guess that says something about me.
So where does the truth lie? In his defence, I once heard a famous author say: ‘Get over it, I make stuff up.’