Hazel McHaffie


A question of genes?

I’m always on the alert for authors and books with something to tell me for my own writing, so when I saw a session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week with two authors discussing my sort of themes, I thought: Ahhah, double whammy; this one’s definitely for me.

Sleeper's WakeThe two books were Samantha Harvey’s Wilderness (about a man with Alzheimer’s) and Sleeper’s Wake by Alistair Morgan (about a man regaining consciousness after a road accident, to learn that his wife and daughter died in the car he was driving). Both debut novels. Both prize-winners.

First salutary observation: tiny audience. Hmmm. Is it true that in this climate of a global recession the public don’t want to read about depressing subjects in their fiction? I asked the question – minus any tactless reference to the size of the audience, of course.

The answer? Morgan said he didn’t himself want to read about relentless cheeriness and everything going well, because it’d make him feel he was somehow substandard when his own life wasn’t wall-to-wall perfection. Hmmmmm? Harvey said she was always conscious of the potential to be depressing so she worked at introducing levity and humour. I’m with Harvey on that one. With care, though, so as not to mock the seriousness of the reality.

Lessons learned?
– I’ll lose some readers who don’t want ‘dark’.
– I need to stress the positive, upbeat side of the story on the jacket in my next book, Remember Remember (about Alzheimer’s).
– I need to go to more sessions with such authors and really listen to and learn from their answers to questions. Gain without pain.

Interestingly. someone else asked the authors if, having written ‘dark’ books they’d do the same again. Answer: they’d both determined to be ‘jolly and light’ next time round. Me too. But found they couldn’t be; hence more of the same forthcoming. Me too! I gave my ‘happy’ version to two of my preliminary readers and they were emphatic: it just wasn’t me.

Is it something in our genes?

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