Guest Post by PJ Whiteley
PJ Whiteley is the author of ‘Close of Play’, which was published last year. He has written a guest post for this event.
The same, or different?
By PJ Whiteley
There are only seven stories. Or five. Or two. I’ve read various such theories. And it’s well established that we humans are wired to engage with certain dramas and be unperturbed by others. As readers we desire justice, resolution, we are intrigued by mystery, we want mutual lusts to be consummated. Any deeper issues that a writer may wish to introduce are best in supporting roles, and they get defined by a creative writing teacher as ‘themes’. The safest option for an author is to wear these philosophical discussions lightly, and write a romance, or a thriller, to an arc that does not depart too far from convention.
So the big question that confronts a new(ish) novelist like myself is: to what extent shall I write to a formula or genre, and to what extent shall I dare to be bold and create something a little different? With my first novel Close of Play, I was stuck on it for several years. I had created a promising situation, and some hopefully intriguing characters with distinctive insights into contemporary life, conveyed through personal reflection and dialogue. But the drama had little direction. I completed it when I realized that the reader would want a resolution of ‘will they/won’t they’; some big moments and some comic moments. I wasn’t selling out; I was learning the craft of story-telling.
Yet there is still a ‘but’ lurking. Do we really want every romantic comedy to have a fairly transparent secret that He has concealed from Her (or the other way around), to be revealed 40 pages from the end causing a break-up resolved when He (or She) is urged by the Best Friend to ‘Go Get Her/Him’, as prelude to the Big Kiss at the end in the airport lounge? Is it not more intriguing to have one situation resolved, while another thread comes loose? The reader wants to be taken by surprise sometimes, by plot or by a person; to have a character who is compellingly vivid and also unpredictable, like Boris in The Goldfinch, or Aoife in Instructions for a Heatwave, to take two examples from contemporary novels.
And for me, the ‘themes’ (a dreadfully thin and inadequate word) are not just a small part of the book. The most memorable reads for me have prompted me to think anew about the nature of truth-telling, relationships, and personal beliefs, or other ways in which an individual attempts to make sense of this unplanned thing that happens to us called life. The story propels the book; it isn’t the whole of it.
For my second novel Marching on Together, I’ve dared to create a story with six principal characters, and charted a course without an obvious ending. But just as I wasn’t selling out when I nudged Close of Play towards romcom territory, I’m not abandoning the reader or respect for a strong narrative with Marching on Together. I am seeking to create some captivating dramas, genuine romance and heartfelt moments. I think you will care for Yvonne, and urge her to be less harsh on herself; I think you’ll be wanting things to work out for Johnny. I hope you’ll like Terry, an artist and a real one-off.
As for the story, you probably won’t be able to see where it’s headed. But that’s good, isn’t it?
‘Close of Play’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/close-of-play/
Website – http://www.whiteleywords.com/
Twitter – @Felipewh
Matthew Smith is kindly giving away three copies of ‘Close of Play’. To enter just leave a comment telling me what your favourite genres are.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 3rd April 2016.
The winners will be randomly chosen within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.