Most of the time, I don’t get confused by writing as two people...
Some days I sit down as Juliet Greenwood to write historical novels, and other days I sit down as Heather Pardoe, to write short stories and historical serials for magazines. I’ve got so used to it over the years I no longer think about it.
Over the past couple of months, however, I’ve been editing a novel as Juliet, while Heather’s serial Daughter of Conwy has been in The People’s Friend, and any free brain has been working on ideas for the next novel and the next serial. For the first time, I’ve found bits creeping to both and wondered if they are Juliet or Heather.
So what is the difference? It’s a question of genre. Lots of writers write under different names for different kinds of books, because your name, like your book cover, is a kind of pact with your reader – and yes, that applies to literary fiction, which is a genre just like the rest. And the term ‘genre’ is nothing to be looked down on, either. Some worthy critics might have the idea that readers need to be stretched and challenged, but, personally speaking, I find that’s known as life.
And in life – and particularly when life becomes very challenging indeed – the last thing most of us need is to always be ‘challenged’/‘educated’/‘improved’ in our few hours/minutes of spare time. Hence the pact. So whether it’s Miss Marple or the team from Welsh noir Hinterland putting the pieces of the jigsaw into place and the world to rights, or Scarlett O’Hara battling through whatever life throws at her, we all know what we are getting. Fifty Shades is fifty shades, and Elizabeth Bennett never stumbles across zombies without prior warning.
That doesn’t mean it’s a soft option. Ask Heather. Characters still go through the emotional mill and face life changing (and life-threatening) situations. Readers aren’t stupid. As a reader, I want to find a something I can identify with, which is usually an experience that relates to one I’ve faced. That’s the investment I have in the characters and in the story. A book might have won zillions of prizes, but if that investment isn’t there, I’m off.
At the moment I’m in the slightly odd position of having similar subjects for my next serial and my next novel. There’s plenty of nastiness in the subject (no, I’m not telling!), which Juliet will be referring to, but won’t appear on the page in detail, because that’s not in the pact. Heather, meanwhile, won’t be referring to the nastiest of the nastiness at all. But that doesn’t mean her story will be soft, or that her readers are daft. Far from it.
It’s a question, as with all stories, of which part you tell. There’s a reason why Mr Darcy never grows old and dies, leaving his Elizabeth behind. You don’t need to inform your readers that’s what happens, or how. They know. That’s the thing about story telling: for that moment in time, both as readers and writers, we can choose the rules. They don’t have to be the same rules all the time, but in the boundless world of the imagination, as in life, they are a measure of safety. Don’t knock it: we all need it, and sometimes safety can give the greatest freedom of all.