Back in March I hosted a guest post by PJ Whiteley as part of my Urbane Publications blog event. He is now back with another post.
A question of subject matter
Guest blog by PJ Whiteley
Do you have to care about the interests of your characters to enjoy the book?
The issue occurred to me on holiday last month as I read Simon Says, by Daniel Gothard (declaring an interest, we have the same publisher, Urbane). The two main characters, Simon and Sean, watch a movie together several times a week, and their banter is peppered with quotes from their favourite films, most of which I haven’t seen (I watch a fair few movies, but I have a peculiar taste). This might have irritated me, but it didn’t. I think the reason is that the character Sean was smart and engaging: cool but with a big heart. He was the main reason I enjoyed the book, and the dialogue between the two lads was sharp.
This was reassuring to me, as my own novels, which could vaguely be defined as romcoms like Simon Says, also feature grown adults, mostly men, who have keen, near-obsessive interests. They are sports fans, so a necessary discipline for me is to keep the fan-talk to a minimum, and develop the human drama. ‘Most sports fans are men; most novel-readers are women,’ I’m often warned.
My riposte is that where a romantic comedy only features relationships and career choices they can become a bit bland. I want to have clashing world-views, commitment to a cause, or the fierce loyalty of tribe. Sport appeals because of the strong emotions it generates, and the parallels with real life that it can generate.
Not everyone would agree; not everyone will like my books, but that’s fine. That’s true of all authors. If the story engages, it soon won’t matter whether the main character’s passion is cricket, potholing or theoretical physics. Thousands of people read the 1990s non-fiction book Longitude, about the tale of an 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison. The book-buying population hadn’t suddenly become fascinated by the engineering of chronometers in their early years; they were hooked by a classic fable of the underdog overcoming formidable obstacles. And who, of all those who watched Erin Brockovich, can cite details on the particular corporate conspiracy that she exposed, and the underlying science?
It doesn’t matter what the subject is, it matters that the lead character cares about it. That’s what we have to show, as authors.
About PJ Whiteley
PJ Whiteley is an author. His first novel, Close of Play, published by Urbane Publications April 2015, was shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize. His second novel, Marching on Together will be published February 2017, also by Urbane.