When I was thinking about this blog, I wondered whether I should call it, ‘under the covers’ as it is about books. But then I realised that that sounded salacious so I had to change my mind. I tried ‘Judging a book by its cover’ but that didn’t work either because although this is about books, it is about the changing taste in books, which is very marked now, and not actually about the books themselves. The thing is, the public taste in books changes constantly and so do the names of the genre they represent. Which become more and more wild and unlikely, the more difficult our surrounding conditions grow. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen a change in public taste. Some of the most beautiful and totally incredible musicals were produced for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers during the second world war and quite right too. People used to say ‘they lift you out of things, them two.’ And that was exactly what they did.
Now we seem to be running to even further extremes of fantasy and untamed imagination. Yesterday I found a self-published book being pre-praised by its writer as belonging to the ‘fantasy-magical-realism’ genre. When I’d stopped laughing, I tried to find out what it was, but failed totally. Presumably the writers of the new genre knows all about it. But I’m in the dark, as I am when I consider most of the other genres on offer, space-travel, time-travel, various impossible detectives, passionate romances between rich men and poor girls. There’s wish fulfilment if you ever saw it! And so many police dramas all following the same pattern.
But I can’t truthfully say I didn’t see this coming. It crashed in on my own writing world when a new passion for what was then called ‘chick-lit’ began. It started when Helen Fielding produced a novel called ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary,’ about a thirty year old, who was obsessed with how many cigarettes she’d smoked, how fat she was, whether her bum looked big in particular clothing and such other earth-shattering matters. It was an immediate best-seller but I have to admit, it bored me to tears. I saw Bridget Jones as a case of delayed adolescence, which ought to have been medically treated, not used as a source of humour. But it was what my then publisher wanted me to write because it was so popular and when I told her I couldn’t possibly do it, after quite a lot of amiable and sympathetic conversation, I lost my position in her ‘house’.
Now I look at the constant flow of books based entirely on imagination, detective novels, murder mysteries, crime, eighteenth century romance and WW2 stories illustrated by quite impossibly clean and beautiful present day models, like the one on the cover of ‘War Baby’, dressed in various approximations to war uniform and gazing coyly out at us from the covers. I’m afraid that when I look at them, my mind is full of what the war was really like – constantly filthy dirty, constantly stinking and a lot of the time, for many of us, terrifying. It’s such a deep chasm I know I couldn’t even begin to make in-roads into it.
Because the truth is, I can only write stories about people I can believe in, living lives I can also believe in or have lived myself, in places that I’ve either lived in or worked in or researched very thoroughly in the course of at least a year. It is very, very important for me to be accurate. I might take years to achieve accuracy but it has to be done. So if I stand back and look at me and my novels standing her among todays novels, I know I am sticking out like a sore thumb.
What next? I wonder.