One of the key differences between literary and mainstream commercial fiction is in the handling of character. Interestingly my short stories tend to be literary and these are the ones that have won or been short listed in big competitions. My novels; the more ‘thriller-ish’ mysteries tend to be more plot-driven although I have to say I believe so strongly in voice and character, it’s hard to divorce the two.
I realised as I was working on Dotty yesterday how much character plays the central role in this and Chutney; both set in fictitious suburbs of London and both very much about dispelling stereotype. We live in a very cosmopolitan world now and, like it or not, what was British and what might have once defined us as British has changed. We need to embrace that. This is why both stories while with British voices; these come from different cultures. In fact Runner Bean Billy talks about people labelling him as a ‘paki’ at school or ‘Indian’ and he says repeatedly “I am British. I was born in East London!” George is a Russian immigrant, in fact it’s only Emma who is white ‘typical’ British… except she is less so than both of them!
In Dotty, we meet Giles (so named because there were no other council estate sons with such a posh name and his mum was a fan of the cartoonist) but there is another reason, and he is not as British as his name suggests. He and has not left his home since 1985. While the three main characters are white British, not all of the people on Church Lane are; in fact it is quite a mixed bag. But none of them, I hope, stereotypes. I see our role as writer, or my role anyway, as taking these people and these lives and painting a realistic, funny, sad and insightful look at life now — I hope these books are a reflection of who we are now and how we live now.
I also came to a realisation yesterday that these unconnected novels (apart from both being set in London suburbs) are part of a series of three; the final one being darker but all have a connection of sorts but each an entirely different entity. I often work with writers who write series and of the things I have to remind them of is that the stories must stand alone.
So why this series, which is very different to While No One Was Watching (except that was really about character, right and breaking boundaries in colour)? Well, it seems important to write about these people. Their lives are playing out in interesting ways begging for their stories to be told… so why not? Let’s hope they find a home with a BIG publisher, eh? It’s what they’re begging me for: they certainly are characters with strong voices.
Have a great day.