I don’t know if it’s the same for all writers, but when I am writing fiction, I sometimes find myself pleasantly surprised when, in the process of developing characters, they deviate away from the planned script as their personality blossoms. I experienced this in my very first fiction book, Coal House, and even though it may seem as if it would be frustrating, it’s one of the most pleasing and challenging and rewarding things for me.
In order to at least have some conviction in my capability to write believable characters I think their ability to surprise me or at least make me think means I’m part of the way there. My premise has always been to write something I would like to read, to create something new which I think has some relevance. I’ve found that such a theme is explored in ‘Green’, which is the follow up to ‘Peach’, my as-yet unpublished novel that I’ve gone on about a few times.
The protagonist in ‘Green’ has concerns about the imprint they are making on the world and the legacy they are creating for themselves. It is an extension of similar ideas introduced as concepts in ‘Peach’ but, the funny thing was, in writing this second instalment in the series, in moments where I close the laptop and finish writing, I often think about the themes I put together in ‘Peach’ and how successful they were.
Time will tell, as will the critics, I suppose, although all the early reviews have been positive.
While they are on my mind, I thought I’d write a little about those themes. This may be of interest to those who have already read ‘Peach’.
The first, and most significant, story I wanted to tell has its roots in the everyday decisions we make. You pop the question into Google – how many decisions do we make a day – and the internet tells us that number is 35,000. If we say that a decision is made out of two choices (to put it lazily) then that is at least 70,000 possible ways our life can go in a single day from the second we open our eyes; or, even, before that, as we regain consciousness after sleeping. How many of those decisions do we have true ownership over? How many of these actions have consequences that have the potential to significantly alter our path in life? When you think about it, it’s quite a high number.
There are bigger moments, obviously, and bigger decisions. One concept that is discussed is how the human mind computes decisions which are perceived as final. You know, when you quit a job, or diet, or end a relationship. Ending feels like a natural thing but it’s a choice. If something goes wrong then usually, if it’s out of our control, we put it down to bad luck, or if it’s within our control, it’s bad luck or a mistake. Or someone else doing something wrong by exercising their will to get what they want. In life we all want the best for ourselves and the ones we love and sometimes we forget that there is a natural order, sometimes other people have to miss out as a result and that breeds bad feeling and resentment. And, of course, when things don’t go our way, we look for excuses or people to blame.
This is a very strong theme in the story of the protagonist of ‘Peach’. If you are following, there is a theme of colour psychology that is represented in the story/series. The title came after the story was written and I was just so thankful that it was as perfect as it was in helping to summarise everything that the story seemed to represent, as well as being completely ideal for the series, too.
But within 200,000 words, there isn’t just one story – there are plots and sub-plots and other strands that exist within the lives of all of these other characters that populate the life of your protagonist. People like to look at a story and identify good and bad; right and wrong. Well-intentioned and honourable, or, evil. If someone is doing something that you consider is bad and impacts you in a negative way, well, it has to be considered that they are doing it for their own reasons. Whether or not you agree with them. Whether or not they are well intentioned. You cannot reason with people in those circumstances because it is no longer reasonable, but you can choose your own reaction and if you have the awareness in any given situation to identify where you are, then you are in a strong place to make your response a rational one. The most rational action in such an incident is often not to act at all.
But who of us can say that we have that level of awareness, in every instance and every interaction? (I know I can’t, and who knows if that admission means I’m not effectively qualified to write about it at such length, but I do tend to think that most creation is just one person’s interpretation – so, we’re all qualified, really. That’s how I help settle my own anxiety about it, anyway.)
For instance, take a look at relationships (lovers and friendships). When they are ‘over’, we tend to look at the other person in a very negative light. With an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, eventually, we soften and remember good times, I think this rarely happens when friendships end. Is this because or in spite of the fact that, generally, a lover is closer than a friend?
Maybe it’s because on some subconscious level we understand our own capability to be fallible when it comes to love; most of us have experienced both being ‘dumped’ or doing the ‘dumping’. Eventually, although we rarely rationalise it this way, we come to accept that we can’t do anything about the way someone else’s feelings. It isn’t wrong that they don’t feel the same way.
This is a revelation that my protagonist ‘enjoys’ right in the middle of suffering grief – an emotion and experience that is irrational and unpredictable. In that human desire to understand and comprehend the order of why and when things happen, he believes that the natural order of life events is trying to tell him something. Because that’s what we do. It’s only later on that he looks back at this time and asks himself another question – did I do that, did I act that way and did I believe it because it was the convenient thing for me to do at the time? Or, was I looking for an excuse, and I was provided one, so I took it?
It is for you (the collective you, not the royal you) out there to tell me if I got those messages across effectively. But it was a theme I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. As was that of sexuality in one of my characters – it never came up because it wasn’t relevant, and when it became a point of interest, I thought, well, what if this character had this sexual orientation? I won’t spoil it for anyone reading, but the message I was trying to put across here was that it doesn’t matter. And why should it? We like to believe we live in a tolerant world (tolerant is a word I don’t really like, because it suggests wrong-doing somewhere), an accepting world, and I suppose for the most part we are, even if we see a lot in the news every day to tell us otherwise. For some people it is important for them to be defined by their sexuality and I think that there must be a certain part of our society where that needs to be the case; the message I tried to articulate with my character is that it can be possible for someone to have an orientation where it is not expected and for them not to have to be defined by it; not because of shame, or any reason other than it is their choice to live a normal regular joe lifestyle that isn’t dominated by a need to justify who we are and what we do.
The most prominent discussion – I think – in the story is death, and how the living use the experience. There is no right or wrong answer (the same could be true of most things) but isn’t it compelling that death is such an equaliser, in that, it serves as an excuse for all manner of things? It is an excuse for behaviour and an opportunity for forgiveness, not in repent of negative actions, but simply in itself, both in the living and in those who have passed. We can canonise those who have passed and grant second chances to those still with us based solely on the experience of death and our revision of our perception of time.
As I’ve said a couple of times in these blog, it will be for others to say how successful my articulation of these ideas was – I find them fascinating!