I wrote this piece in 1997. It was inspired by my frustration at not being able to write a story which was anything other than tragic.
19 years later and I’m working on the third draft of my first full-length novel! And no, I can’t promise it’s particularly happy either. But it IS nearly finished and will be ready to send out to my wonderful beta readers in just a few weeks. Woo-hooooo!
(Oh, and you’ll need to grab a cuppa for this post. It’s a long one!)
happy a. 1. (Of person or circumstance) lucky, fortunate, contented with one’s lot; glad or pleased (about, with, that, to help another etc.)
One day I will write a happy story.
But doesn’t see,
Trapped in time,
Where to go,
What to do,
Scared to move,
That she might fall,
Will she ever get out,
Out of the black of her world?
It will be unlike any other story I have ever written. For a start, there will be no loneliness:
… ‘Things wouldn’t be like this if Dad was here.’ But her father was long gone. He had left when Lee was only three. That was twelve years ago. Lee didn’t really remember him, but it was nice to have something to believe in. Something to look forward to. Maybe some day he would come back for her. Be a real father. Lee knew it wasn’t going to happen, but she still thought about it a lot…
… ‘Neil’s at the back of the church, near where I am sitting. He’s standing there, clutching a tiny sleeping newborn to his chest. They named her Emma before Amy died. (..I…) Their child… our child. My daughter. I go to him and stand close. His eyes are dry and vacant. (He can’t see me.) I know he can’t bring himself to go and see Amy in the coffin, I don’t hold it against him. I understand, it’s not really her (…me…) in there anyway. As far as Neil’s concerned, Amy is gone, and gazing upon an empty corpse will do nothing to console him. I desperately want to hold him and tell him I’m coming back. I want to take away his tears and pain, but I can’t…
and no pain.
…She was scared and confused. She couldn’t tell anyone. Maybe it was just sex. After all, he didn’t beat her and she didn’t scream. She hadn’t been able to move – she was nearly passing out. But she told him ‘no’, she was a virgin, she didn’t want to have sex. She can still hear him whisper in her ear, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ She wanted to die. But she wouldn’t tell. She wouldn’t let them judge. It was easier to have them think of her as a slut than to answer their questions, their stares. Everything’s fine now, though. Just as long as she remembers to forget…
The problem is that my best stories are written when I am depressed. I call these my best stories because they are the ones that, over the years, have obtained the largest response from the people who read them, they are the ones that are remembered.
Even my comical pieces are usually edged with pain and malice:
‘Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.’
How much truth is in these so-called harmless nursery rhymes? Have you ever thought about it? Has anyone ever really investigated what really went on during that night referred to by this rhyme?
Hello. My name is Hamlet. You can call me Ham for short. I am a pure-bred mongrel by heritage and a determined fighter by nature. I was the little dog in that rhyme. I was there on that night. However, I did not consider it fun, and I certainly did not laugh. You see, a very unfortunate characteristic of humans (especially the ones who write nursery rhymes) is that they cannot seem to be able to tell the difference between a dog laughing for joy, and one that is crying out in pain, both emotional and physical.
I, Hamlet Mongrel, was the victim of a malicious conspiracy…
It’s not just me. Some of the best-loved writing of all time is total doom and gloom (just ask the Brontë sisters).
So my question is, why is it that readers return for more and seem to want always pain and trauma? Why don’t they want to read about happy people who have perfect families and beautiful pets with a big income and overseas holidays? Is it that they find these topics boring?
Then I thought that perhaps the readers don’t have a choice. If great writers are writing about depressing subjects, then what chance does the consumer of books have? This is particularly a problem if you are a person who believes one should broaden and improve one’s mind by reading some of the classics – although I find Mills and Boon also somewhat ridden with comparative disasters, such as unrequited love.
I finally came to the conclusion that it was not, in fact, the reader who was at fault for choosing only to read sad stories, but the fault of the writers for creating, almost exclusively, sad stories.
For a moment I felt I had come the final full circle of my thinking and that I had come up with a solution to why I can’t write happy stories. Then I thought about it for a while longer and it didn’t seem to make sense. I had blamed my inability to write happily on hundreds of authors who set the precedent, therefore crippling my bliss. Where is the logic in that? The mere example of other authors can’t force me to do something I don’t want to.
I was back at square one again, with my original question: ‘Why can’t I seem to write a happy story?’
My next attempt at a solution was to blame circumstance. Do I generally have a depressing life? No, but I certainly live in a depressing era, don’t I? High unemployment rates, rising figures of youth suicide, the introduction of more expensive university fees, the ecosystem is collapsing; our water is polluted, the world is heating up and we’re all going to die soon anyway!!! Melodrama, all of it. I needed to look more deeply at my writing, my methods.
When do I write stories? As I said before, when I’m depressed. Why do I write stories? I heard a counsellor once say that writing is a fantastic form of therapy. I heard a literary academic once say that man has always written for one reason; to try to make sense of himself and his purpose in being here.
I write stories to try to explain my life and the lives of others. Sometimes I write in order to take control of those lives. In my writing I can make them immortal, and decide which path they will follow. If there is a person I dislike, I can kill them in my writings, with no adverse consequences to myself. If something terrible has happened to me, I can write it down, with ink or computer, put it on a piece of paper and physically remove that paper from me. Psychologically, I am removing the event from my mind, trapping it in writing, imprisoning it.
Why don’t I want to do the same with wonderful, exciting events in my life? In the lives of others? Surely I would want to capture these moments on paper, in order to remember them later.
However, there is no need; I capture events like that in my mind. I relive them by talking with others about them. At the time, I am usually too happy to want to exclude myself from society in order to sit for hours with pen or keyboard in hand and write about it. The truth is, when my life is wonderful, I want to live it, not write about it. I don’t want to analyse or explain it, I just want to live it.
I used to go to literature festivals and, listening to famous authors talk about their history, believe that I was doomed because my life obviously wasn’t tragic enough for me to become a famous author. Now I understand why I felt that way. Perhaps not being a world-renowned literary genius isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. After all, which would you choose: a happy life which only your colleagues know about, or a tragic existence you can share with the entire world?
Personally, I’m content to know I may never write a happy story, but that I can live my happy story instead.
Oh, if only 17-year-old me had asked 36-year-old me. I could have told her why she couldn’t write a happy story: TEEN ANGST. Dastardly thing that it is.
What would you tell your teen self if you could? Do you write happy stories?