So here I am, suitcase unpacked, laundry done and ready for anything. I had imagined I’d have plenty of time for creative thinking during my holiday, seeing as how someone else was steering the boat and cooking dinner but as it turned out my thoughts very soon settled into a comfortable rut. The biggest decision I made all week was whether to have dessert or cheese. I guess I needed a rest. But now I have a serious matter to address. The direction my…ahem…career has taken.
I’ve been getting stick recently from some of my readers. They don’t like my move into pre-20th century fiction. The charges against me have been: books too boring, books too full of complicated stuff. Well. Boredom is, of course, entirely in the eye of the beholder. If you say a book is boring I can only plead that others have not found it so. ‘Complicated stuff’ is easier for me to defend. If I am capable of writing it, it cannot possibly be that difficult because I don’t know much about anything. However I do enjoy learning about things. Perhaps my mistake, if I’ve made one, is to assume that all my readers like to pick up bits of information too.
There has also been a much graver complaint: that my books aren’t as funny as they used to be. This may be true. Some of my earlier novels were described as ‘hilarious romps’, a label I detested. I also felt it completely misrepresented me. Hilarious is an over-used word anyway, and I thought, hoped, that my humour was gentler than that. Writers change over the years. Mainly we just try to get better at what we do. There are writers who use the same winning formula again and again. They are richer than I’ll ever be but sadly I’ve never found a way to emulate them. Anyway, I don’t have carte blanche. I’m a breadwinner. I can only write what someone will pay me to write.
It is true my earlier novels had a stronger comic streak. And guess what? They didn’t sell. I have a small and devoted following of readers. Some of them will buy any new book by me, God bless them and save them. Unfortunately many of them then hand their copy round their friends and relations until it falls to pieces. They write and tell me so. And flattering as it is to be passed around it does little for my commercial survival in the ruthless world of publishing. I turned to historical fiction chiefly because of my poor sales figures and my publishers thought it was worth the experiment. Has it been a success? The jury is still out. I have one more novel to deliver before I’m out of contract and it will be historical because that’s what I’m being paid to do.
And the humour? I didn’t think it had gone away. Actually humour was one of the things I hoped to bring to historical fiction, a genre that can easily take itself too seriously. But life changes. When I was writing novels like Perfect Meringues I was younger and breezier. Now I’m a full-time carer as well as a writer there are days when the chuckle tank is almost empty and maybe that’s reflected in my writing. Still, I haven’t exactly turned into Dostoevsky. Have I?