Some wise writer once said something about if you cannot find the story you want to read you must write it yourself. I wish I could remember who that was and the exact quote (answers on a postcard, but, remember, it’s just for fun…), but never was a truer thing spoken… unless, of course, you just find a bigger bookstore…
But surely self-indulgence is the province and privilege of the writer. After all, much as we protest to cater for our readers, first we must like what we’re writing ourselves. I love fantasy, I love sci-fi and magical realism, and I love young adult. So this is what I write. I could never do justice to a gripping crime thriller or police procedural because I rarely read them (never say never!). I love jeopardy, so I write it. I love to see my protagonist compromised or vulnerable in some way, but to come out the other side a stronger character, so I write it. I love happy endings, so I write them too. There is a long-standing joke amongst my friends that I can’t write a story without snogging. So guess what?
But is it right to simply sit at a keyboard and please yourself? What about the author-reader contract? What about fashions and editorial requirements and moral responsibilities? I have read many disgruntled reviews over the years that complain of the writer of some book or TV series not paying the slightest regard to the wishes of their audience. Lost is a case in point – viewers hated the ending because they felt they had in some way been cheated. Yet some self indulgent writer sat at a keyboard and ended it just the way they wanted to. The same can be said for BBC’s Merlin – for 4 years the writers steadfastly refused to give the magical reveal that they knew their fans were clamouring for and, seemingly, only budged in the end to avoid the death threats that would undoubtedly come their way if they didn’t, not to mention the fact that the climax created a distraught army of fans just in time for Christmas day.
The other side of this is the dreaded market. I don’t say this because I have no regard for the people who may read my books, but because I never seem to be able to fit into the industry categories, nor, indeed, stay in one when I do. I tend to flit from style to style, depending on my mood, and through genres and sub-genres. It’s early days, but I suspect it might prove difficult to sustain a loyal audience this way. Recently, I’ve begun final edits on a YA romcom, a bleak YA paranormal story and an NA thriller/urban fantasy. If life is like a box of chocolates then I’m afraid that my brain must be a bag of Haribo.
For now, I have to write what I love, self-indulgently and regardless. Only that way can I produce a story I love and hope that others will too.