This week, allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore reflects on a theme which has emerged from the books she reviews.
Although I tend to review indie-published novels with a magical realist and/or spiritual theme, there is another quality that runs through many of the books I read for review: the desire by the author to share knowledge or experience that matters deeply to them. It is not surprising that these qualities surface: after all, how often are we told as writers to ‘write what we know’? But recently I have come away so much more often than before with this feeling, that I thought it worthy of discussion.
I’ve written and published as a ghostwriter for some years, but all along I have been writing my own novels – Equilibrium, Rising Up, and most recently The Salt Factory – because I had something specific I wanted to say. The wide-ranging aspects of spirituality – from ghosts and mediumship to faith, healing, and other ‘psychic phenomena’ – have not been particularly well explored in fiction, at least not in the realm that sits between the believer and the cynic. I wanted to write in that middle ground, exploring how characters deal with spiritual phenomena, how they respond to them, what questions they ask and what questions are raised in the reader. And certainly several of the novels I have read echo my particular intention to some degree: Leigh Podgorski’s Desert Chimera and Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak novels do the same thing although in rather different ways, exploring their authors’ own interests in other ways of seeing the world, other ways of living and existing if you like, through their fiction.
But there’s another type of fiction which I mentally sub-categorise as the Love Letter, in which authors share a different kind of passion. This is where authors draw on themes, ideas or facts they feel provide a rich ground on which to build their fictional development. Many times these work very effectively and provide an atmospheric backdrop to a book: Kirsty Fox’s Dogtooth Chronicals (reviewed here) is a novel which succeeds very well in this way. But I find at times it can go beyond the mere use of research and the incorporation of authentic detail. The novel becomes a voice for something, often marginalised, highly academic or controversial, that the author feels is important. These are themes which perhaps might not survive a commissioning editor’s inbox or an agent’s perusal, for they become so much the foundation of these novels that a commercially-minded editor or agent is bound to think that the novel will not appeal to a wide enough audience. These themes appear too specialised and the novel is too specifically built around the idea to have a broader attraction to the generalist reader, who is reading for entertainment.
All of which has led me to wonder to what extent indie publishing has enabled people to write more novels of this type. Indie publishing is a marvellous and powerful way for every writer to find their voice, to say what is important to them. Indeed, these novels can be analogous to collections of matchboxes or candlesticks, thoroughly beautiful in the eye of the owner, appreciated, valued and understood in all their intricacies, intricacies which the owner/author is only too glad to share with you. But as with any craft – a painting with too much of one colour, a chair with one arm longer than another, a play where the actor keeps breaking the fourth wall – while this particular feature of a novel can be very successful as s device, at times the passion can obstruct the story and the pacing. It takes a fine balancing act to engage the reader enough to take them on a journey into an unknown, afresh area they may not be that familiar with, while keeping them engaged enough in the real reason for the story: the characters and their own journey. The characters’ journey can, in books that are more Love Letter than novel, become secondary to the journey the author wants to take the reader on, and in those instances the book becomes bigger than the novel, as it were.
Is a novel’s purpose to educate? At times, perhaps yes. Is it written in order to open our eyes to something new? In the case of science fiction, magical realism, and fantasy that is certainly true. But it is also written to entertain. And while just as in the collection of matchboxes, there are always sellers as well as buyers, other fans and enthusiasts to share the fascination, no conversation can ever survive on one topic. A novel is a conversation between writer and reader. But at times it can become a love letter, sent out into the unknown, so passionate and devoted in the hope that the reader will respond in kind.
If you are interested in reading any of Evie’s books, please visit her page or download samples from her pages on all Amazon sites.