I write about love. Gosh, that sounds a bit embarrassing, doesn’t it? Like some AA admission only not as cool. Just to qualify, I didn’t start off writing love stories. I’ve never read a Mills & Boon. Oh, okay, maybe once, when I was about 13 and wildly curious. Love is just what came out when I started to field ideas and I started to write them down (in the vague hope that I might, ha! write a novel).
One of the things I’ve heard that writers should do when they’ve finished a piece of work in order to gauge its worth is to ask ‘how important is this’? Does it matter if this story is told? If it’s a story about life and death, we’d have to say, yes. And I think that’s why so many stories have love at their heart (so to speak). Love matters to all of us. Romantic, familial, friendship. It’s a soft and silent web that bonds us together underneath the hard surface of things. It breaks us and it mends us again.
So, how to write about love? I want to avoid being soppy at all costs but I also want to tell the truth about love. It is soppy, really, when you’re in it. It has your squidgy still-beating heart in its hands, ready to toss. I think I probably dip into the well of my own experiences more than I’m aware of. I think you have to. In my first novel Star Attraction, I’m writing about a famous actor Jamie Hall falling in love with a fairly cynical journalist, Madison Edwards (yes, I am a journalist but no, I am not as cynical as her). And unfortunately this scenario is not dipping into the well of my own experience. But I’ve dedicated the book to my husband because, frankly, I am about as crazy about him as a movie star. I think that for a lot of people choosing the big love of your life is scary. It was for me. It’s a little like jobs. Many of us end up working in our second choice for jobs. The risk in choosing the path we really want, the person we really want, is enormous. So I took the risk on the big love and I sacrificed a lot in doing so (just as my female character does).
I’m telling you this rather personal stuff because it’s taken me a long time to see these parallels between my life and my fiction. I don’t think I was dwelling on them as I wrote about Jamie and Madison. For some reason, when you write fiction, you need to reveal yourself, your truth, in your words, or it just doesn’t work. I don’t know exactly how it happens but it’s about being open, I think. You don’t have to be in love to write a novel about two people falling in love, but I think you have to have felt love. This is why most writers are in their 30s by the time their first novel is published. You need to live, absorb and to know about things in order to have something to write about truthfully and (you hope), with some insight.
Which brings me to writing for love. When I talk to people who have kindly read my book, a lot ask why I do this; why I write. I did an interview with the author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame a little while ago, where I asked her the same question. Her answer was ‘love.’ Love of words; love of the sound and feel of them and the way they can affect you like a punch in the gut, or soothe like a smooth caress. Love of creating characters who surprise you all the time and talk their crazy little voices into your head.
But also, there is love for your reader. That sounds weird and creepy, I know, but writing is about sharing and connecting. It’s about revealing. It’s about saying, you know what? Things are really just crap sometimes. Do you feel this? I do. That’s why I read – to find these little nubs of soothing truth. To be able to roll them around in your psyche for a while and feel like there are others out there who feel the same. There is something very intimate about writing fiction. It’s your soul bared, wrapped in a concoction of stories. Like most art, it is in itself an act of love.
If you happen to be partial to a love story and it being Valentine’s Day this week and all, my publishers over at Penguin have a special on my novel, Star Attraction. You can buy the ebook here for less than a cup of coffee. But cross my heart, this won’t be a blog just about my book…It will be about my writing journey (and sometimes other random things too beautiful not to share). Hope you might come along, too.