I don’t know who originally said it, but it is one of the best bits of writing advice I’ve ever heard. Whether we want to or not, what we write says a lot about us, and I think it makes for much more interesting reading if we’re brave enough to consciously explore all the things we’re not telling people. You need to be very honest to yourself to make things up. Our fears and insecurities and all those big questions we grapple with when we can’t sleep at night – I think they’re what make any novel worth reading.
Here are some of mine.
Experiencing my greatest emotions through books – and still waiting for the great adventures to happen in real life
Sara is not me. I have friends. I’ve done things. Sara has thousands of books and her three colleagues at the bookstore. She’s lived only through books. And yet I, too, have experienced some of my greatest emotions through books. There are many things, too many perhaps, that I’ve only experienced in books. And like Sara, I’m still waiting for the great adventures to happen in real life and happen to me.
Worrying that maybe, somehow, books are not enough
It’s a terrifying thought, when you’ve spent most of your life either selling or reading books, and quite often both at the same time. Usually, I tell myself that I’m happy to live through books. In The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Sara asks Amy whether or not she’d rather live in a world without books or a world without people, and I am at one with Sara in sacrificing people if I have to. Books will beat life every time. Even if you like people, they’re better in books.
But Sara also discovers that maybe, somehow, there are times when even a book is not enough; when real life people and real life emotions make it impossible to be content with just reading about it.
Being afraid to wake up one day and realize that I’m all grown up, and responsible, and living a life completely without sex
Caroline Rohde is a formidable woman, definitely the most formidable person in Broken Wheel. She has had to be. Someone has to be there to help people, avert disasters, and keep a tight rein on things. It’s not a role that leads to much gratitude from the people around her. She’s aware that they sometimes laugh behind her back. But she also knows that they make damn sure she’s well out of hearing when they do. And she knows that towns need someone who tells people what they ought to hear, even if it’s so very seldom what they want to hear. It’s just that being the responsible one can become so very tiring after a while. Caroline ends up wondering when, exactly, she became so old, so grown up, and if she ever made a conscious decision to become it.
There have been moments in my own life when I worry that I will wake up one day and realize I’m all grown up, and responsible, and living a life completely without sex. And if I do – will I be brave enough to try to change it?
In the last general election in Sweden, the xenophobic and anti-immigration Swedish Democrats became the third biggest party, receiving almost 10 percent of the votes. I couldn’t write for weeks afterwards. Not because I didn’t think the world needed charming feelgood stories (God knows we need escapism more than ever). No, it was because I could no longer envision a nice, quirky small town, completely devoid of racism, homophobia, transphobia or hate crimes or prejudice or people voting for xenophobic parties. I suddenly felt that I was writing science fiction – some sort of charmed, parallel world to the real one. But not fantasy. The difference being that science fiction deals with things that might one day be possible, or at least “embody the pretence of realism” while fantasy generally deals with supernatural elements. It’s described in one dictionary as: “fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements.”
And I refuse to consider a world free of racism and sexism and homophobia as supernatural or highly fanciful.
My novel doesn’t completely shy away from important topics like racism and homophobia. In fact, it’s an important part of it. Racism and homophobia does exist somewhere at the edge of the town, in its history, in the world surrounding it. But my characters fight it. They’re not defined by it. They find a small town free of white racial terrorism and they move to Denver and return with their “very good friend” Carl.
There is no trans woman of colour in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, but if there were, by God she’d live happily ever after. She’d struggle with an idiotic lover, perhaps, or a disaster at work, but not hate crimes.
Nor is there a Muslim woman in headscarf in my novel, but if there was, she’d ride off in the sunset by the end of it, being so ridiculously happy that the racists and xenophobes wouldn’t know what hit them.
One of my favourite books is Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop Café and I hope that in my books, as in Fannie Flagg’s, the Idgie’s of this world will always challenge the Ku Klux Klan-types, and priests will swear on Moby Dick to protect her and men who beat their wives might possibly find themselves being served for lunch. Lakes will fly away with birds and women will discover their inner Towanda’s, and if that is science fiction, I don’t care.
Read Danielle’s review of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend here.
Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, (Chatto & Windus: London, 2015). 9780701189068, 384pp., hardback.