A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night, sat up, heart pounding, a terrible question on my mind… Was I romantic enough to be a proper Romaniac? Or was I just a maniac? Should I put the Ro in brackets? Be a (Ro) maniac?
So I sat back and thought about my recently finished book, and the next book I want to write, and realized I was worrying about nothing. Yes, some of my stories might be dark, and yes, sometimes the love interests can be shoved to the sidelines while the heroines figure stuff out, but the stories are still full of love – some of it doomed and not all of it romantic, but enough for me to qualify…
While one book is resting between drafts, a new idea is already brewing and begging for my attention… characters are forming, and scenes are appearing in my mind. I keep seeing things when I’m out, potential settings for the new book that have me reaching for a pen.
I’m not inspired by exotic locations – I love reading about them, but looking at a beautiful beach, white sand and turquoise sea, doesn’t get my pen twitching. Unless that’s a tear trickling from under the sunglasses of the girl on the sun lounger, unless the couple walking hand-in-hand through a flower-filled meadow have a dark secret they want to share. I like the shadows, I like writing about what goes on behind the smile, the closed doors. A lonely house, fog rolling in, an empty fairground … even when I try writing a rural idyll, I end up stumbling into a dark wood that just begs to hide a terrible secret…
But. But… I do like a happy ending.
However tortured and full of angst my characters are, I can’t leave them like that – I have to make sure things are going to get better. And all that dark, shadowy stuff – doesn’t it just make the light all the brighter when it comes?
I’m reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my daughter at the moment. The early chapters are horribly bleak – it’s the middle of winter, snow is falling, the family is starving, they live in a hovel, Mr Bucket loses his job, Charlie has cabbage soup for supper every single day… but we are racing through the book, feeling Charlie’s pain, desperate to get to the bit where it all starts to get better for him… And how much more delicious it is when he finds that golden ticket, when he finds that fifty pence shining in the gutter. Hurray for Charlie Bucket! That’s my favourite moment in the book.
But imagine if the story had ended with him missing the fifty pence, never finding the golden ticket, nose pressed against the shop window, watching someone else find it while Charlie either slowly starves or freezes solid…
No, I don’t think so. No tragic love stories for me either, no Romeo and Juliet, no Wuthering Heights, no Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate their literary merit – they are beautiful, haunting books, just not for me. My characters might start out troubled, in the shadows, but there’s light and magic in that empty fairground, there’s love hiding in the corners of the rusty caravan that shelters them from the rain, and after loving and nurturing my heroine all the way through, I am not going to kill her off.
A friend of mine loves nothing better than a good weepie – she’ll stock up on tissues and sob her way from cover to cover. But me? I don’t see the attraction. I have to have a happy ending. Real life doesn’t always have that; the bad guys don’t always get caught, people die. But I read books to escape real life. If someone recommends a book and tells me I’ll need a tissue at the end, I don’t want to read that book. I don’t mind a good cry in the middle, or at the start but at the end … there has to be at least the hope of a happy ending.
So, here is my story with the requisite happy ending:
Once upon a time there was a woman who wanted to be a writer, so she joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and met some other lovely, if maniacal, writers and they become friends and called themselves the Romaniacs and all lived happily ever after…
What a lovely, happy ending.
What ending do you need from a story? Fairytale happy? Or happiness-on-the-horizon? Or is a good, tragic, Romeo and Juliet ending the one for you?