Being a south paw has always had its own peculiar challenges; pens in banks that are on the wrong side, bumping wrists with fellow students in the classroom, now that I’m a teacher no student being able to read my handwriting, ticking ‘backwards’, turning the page at a right angle, having the bowler shout ‘left hander!’ whenever I’ve played rounders…the list goes on. But actually, the one I’ve always noticed is that I tend to do and think things in a rather more ‘backwards’ way compared to ‘normal’, right handed people. When asked to do a subtraction sum, I’ll count upwards from the lower number, when asked a question, I’ll tend to find a less easy answer. It’s hard to name specifics, but I’ve always tended to think and do, quite literally ‘left-field’ things. Although, in my life, I’m probably very conventional, most of my thought processes and the ways I get to the answers, both practical and academic, tend not to be. The outcome might be the same as what anyone else would end up with, but my path can be a bit different. If I was a less optimistic person, chuck ‘summer born baby’ and ‘tall and gangling child’ into the equation and I’d have been an educationalist’s nightmare. Good job I’m not a believer that these things make much of a difference!
It was this that led me to the epiphany, a few days ago, that I’ve only gone and written a novel that’s not the first one in the story. It’s the second. Yup. Six months of writing Far From the Tree, and I’ve just twigged that I’ve written the sequel before the original! Thank goodness the first draft’s done or I’d be crying into my keyboard. You see, I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that it’s predominantly Anna Hemingway’s story, but the truth is, it’s Matthew Carter’s. Perhaps it’s denial, but thinking about it now, it makes more sense that way. And having FFTT as the second book actually makes a whole lot more sense. Matthew’s the constant; he has the history, the breeding, the heritage and the past. We know all about him; family tree, business, hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears. And while we see some of these things in FFTT with Anna, her narrative only really begins when she moves to Little Somerby. Matthew’s starts long before that, and we, as readers, see where he comes from.
There are good reasons for this. Anna is the representation of the reader. She needs to be a character that we, as predominantly female readers, project ourselves onto. That’s a generic characteristic, and although we need to get inside her head, we really just need to see through her eyes. And she sees Matthew, and Little Somerby, and the world they inhabit. It’s the meeting with Matthew that drives the story, and gives her the happy ending she needs. But his story starts long before that.
I think that’s why I’ve found it easier to build his world than hers. I know all about the Carter family; their highs, lows, conflicts and rapprochements. They came to me very easily. Anna’s backstory just isn’t as relevant, to the point where I realised I hadn’t given her the siblings she should have, long after I’d started writing the novel. And the reason for this, is that the Little Somerby series starts before her; it starts with the Carters.
All this has made me realise how incredibly influenced I’ve been by the notion of dynasty in books. Wilbur Smith’s Courtenays, Jilly Cooper’s Campbell Blacks and France Lynches, even going back so far as Virginia Andrews’ Dollengangers. And, not forgetting Emily Bronte’s Lyntons and Earnshaws, of course! Family is where it’s at, and that’s why Forbidden Fruit, as it’s tentatively titled, will be the precursor to FFTT.
This does present problems, though. Not least that I’ve got to conjure up another ninety-thousand odd words. That’s not the major issue, though. There are issues of genre here. There’s no doubt that FFTT is a romance, bordering on chick lit. It’s not completely chick lit, as a substantial part of it isn’t told through the female protagonist’s eyes, but, boy meets girl, they have troubles, there is a happy ending. In Forbidden Fruit, the formula is less straightforward. Boy has married girl at the start, then there are serious issues, then she leaves him with their child. The end. It’s all on its head! So, this will take some selling, I think. But if Jilly Cooper can do it (Rupert Campbell Black meets, marries, then divorces and is ‘alone’ at the end of Riders, Cooper preferring to show him triumphing in his professional field rather than in the romance stakes), then, hopefully, so can I. Of course Matthew’s no Rupert; he’s not a rake, for a start, but I wonder if the professional triumph could be the way to spin it. And of course, the marriage might be rocky, but there can still be lots of explosive sex until she leaves! ;).
Ah well, if I can write the first one (sorry, the second one), in just over six months, I should be able to do the second one (sorry, the first one, haha!) in the same time. But you know what? This time I won’t be pantsing it; this baby’s going to be planned! See you on the other side, folks. Wish me luck…