Friday, 24 September 2010

She was telling my whole life with her song

I admit it's a bit of a stretch from this clip - one of my favourite songs - to this post, but listening to Marika Cobbold discuss how to write romantic comedy with her fellow novelist Amanda Craig at the Ham and High Literary Festival on Tuesday made me realise the story of How I Came to be in England (which I posted here) fits neatly into this category. Also strangely enough, neither of the two authors are romantic comedy writers and both fell into the genre by accident. 

I too planned to write a couple of posts about how it was that I ended up marrying a British naval officer and moving over to the UK from my native Finland. I didn't plan it to become a novel, but in the end the story ran to 48 chapters. I am now submitting the tale as a manuscript to prospective literary agents. (Please keep you fingers crossed!)

So yesterday's talk was more than informative for me, even though I'd gone to the venue just to hear Marika, my Twitter friend and an author who I've long be a fan of. Her first book Guppies for Tea, which I learned yesterday was made into a film in Germany, won many accolades and tells a very modern tale of a dysfunctional family struggling to come to terms with how to care for an elderly mother. Her latest novel, Aphrodite's Workshop for Reluctant Lovers is a tale of a romantic novelist who's lost her faith in love. Her writing is funny and observant. She was born in Sweden and came to England at the age of 19, so I feel a little bit of a kinship to her.

At yesterday's talk I was delighted at how honest and frank both Marika and Amanda were about their art, about the writing process and how they use their own life experiences to create plots and characters. Literary critics often despise (female) authors who use their own experiences as a basis for a novel. But in order to write about love, for example, you must have experienced it, or have watched it at a very close quarter. To pretend that we don't use our own lives, or the people we meet as models for our plot and characters is frankly naive. Of course it's never the same; if we told stories true to life no-one would believe us. But in order to make novels authentic they must have an ounce of reality in them.

It was also interesting to hear how Amanda, straddling genres, takes some of her characters into different novels; how she watches them grow and mature. This kind of Trollop-like treatment of literary characters really appeals to me. How lovely it would be not to have to say goodbye to your beloved heroes or heroines, or those people in your books who have small roles but who you've become fascinated by during the writing of the book.

At the end I even got to meet both authors. I almost ran home through the sunny Hampstead Heath, determined to make my current manuscript a little funnier. After all, as Marika pointed out, writing tragedy is easy compared to writing a comedy. And even Shakespeare was at it, Amanda Craig added. She should know as one of her novels, Love in Idleness, re-enacts A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

But the most valuable truth I took home from the talk was that even successful novelist like Amanda and Marika constantly want to improve their craft. And with great humility and humour they even want to share that experience with their readers and wanna-be writers.   

All books mentioned above are obviously available to buy from England's Lane Books.


Chic Mama said...

My fingers are crossed for you. X

Helena Halme said...

Thank you, lovely. xx