When I was considerably younger, I wanted to be a writer. At school, I would scribble down plot synopses and even complete stories. But once I was out in the world and having to make a living, that more or less came to a halt. Even if I had time, I no longer had the mental energy to devise complex plots or to bring my tentative beginnings to a conclusion. For years now, I have been promising myself that when I retired, I would go back to my writing. Finally, the chance has presented itself.
One of the other resolutions I made, for when I no longer had to work for a living, was to clear out the piles of junk that have been accumulating in all my cupboards, drawers and bookshelves. Lo and behold – the two resolutions have come together in an amazing way. In fact, I can only take it as a Sign. In one of my cupboards was an old notebook, dating back – if I am not mistaken – to my high school days, and containing the synopses to several novels I was planning to write. I have also found a number of exercise books in which I had actually begun (and in some cases, completed) novels. These early literary efforts were mostly of a romantic nature since, in my youth, I was much addicted to the works of Georgette Heyer and Victoria Holt. I also read two romances by Barbara Cartland – two being quite sufficient to convince me that despite her popular success, she couldn’t hold a candle to Georgette Heyer and that, from a literary point of view, her books were completely worthless. Garbage, in fact – to put in brutally. I was (and am) certain, that anything I could write would be much better than anything concocted by Ms. Cartland and her imitators. And yet – how can one account for the success of what can only be described as trash?
Right, to get back to business. Do I still want to write romantic novels? Well, yes and no. Among the synopses and half-finished drafts, I found a novella I had actually finished. At least – it had started life as a full-length Gothic romance, of the genre known as “a bodice-ripper”, which, at some stage (probably because I grew impatient of ever finishing it), I turned into a novella. I can’t be sure when I wrote it but probably sometime in my late teens. It was actually not a bad story although I can now see that the style of writing displays practically every defect which I condemn in other writers. But – and this is the important “but” – I am older and wiser now, and all those defects can be corrected. My problem is this: as originally conceived, the story has an unhappy ending. Romantic novels are supposed to have a Happy End, aren’t they? I mean, isn’t that why they are so popular? Cinderella stories where the downtrodden, poverty-stricken governess marries the wealthy, aristocratic hero and lives happily ever after? Or where the luckless secretary, after many trials and tribulations, ends up respectably married to the boss? I mean to say, even in this day and age, the ultimate goal of the Romantic Heroine is Marriage. So it was when Charlotte Bronte created Jane Eyre, eponymous heroine of one of the earliest – and certainly one of the greatest – of all Gothic romances. So it was when Helen Fielding created Bridget Jones, a century and a half later. We’ve come a long way, Baby – or have we?
This, then, is my dilemma. The tale, as I originally envisaged it, cannot end other than tragically – just as there was never any real possibility of a Happy End for Romeo and Juliet. To give it one would be to be false to the essence of the story. And yet, I want my book to be read. Shall I then ignore my writer’s instincts and force the story into the accepted mould, or should I remain true to myself and court unpopularity by leaving the reader’s hopes unfulfilled?
What do you think, Gentle Reader?