In the book I am currently reading - ‘The Moment You Were Gone’ by Nicci Gerrard – a character keen to give an unknown correspondent some idea of what she is like lists, at length, the things she loves and those she hates. It’s interesting, she remarks, how much more the things we hate reveal about us.
Is that true?
Is passionate loathing more fundamental to who we are as human beings than passionate love? Do the people, situations and things we avoid like the plague reveal more about us than those we rush towards?
Does the fact, for instance, that I hate even thinking about crawling through low-ceilinged tunnels as potholers do or standing on the edge of a very long drop (think Tom Cruise at the beginning of Mission Impossible II standing on that tall pinnacle of rock in the desert) tell you more about me than the fact that I love wild western beaches and blustery autumn days on a hilltop? Possibly so. Those facts tell you that I am not gifted with huge amounts of physical courage. I do not strive to push myself to new limits of endurance or tolerance. I am not an adrenalin junkie. I quite like my nature wild but I’m never in any doubt who’s in charge – no stamping my authority on nature for me, ta very much.
OK then, maybe so far so revealing, but how about the fact that I loathe the whole notion of fashion-victimhood with a vengeance whereas I am a sucker for the latest electronic gadgets? I cannot tell you how much I covet an iPhone, how much I love my laptop (no, really, it is love) how ironing is a whole new ballgame now I listen to podcasts and discover things I never even thought about knowing.
And if loves and hates are revealing, do the books people write reveal as much about them? Is Tom Clancy a real action man like his fictional heroes when not sitting at his computer, or is he an armchair adventurer who would throw up his hands and wave a white hanky at the first sign of the kind of thing his characters routinely laugh off with a wry witticism?
Do the intricate - not to say machiavellian - plots of those who write crime fiction indicate characters forever scheming and planning, or are they more likely to be people who like things to be neat and tidy, moral, organised people who long for good to triumph in the end and for order to be restored?
Are romance writers romantic in their own relationships? Or would they just like to be? I’ve always been told that it’s impossible to fake it where romantic fiction is concerned (‘No, Alis you can’t just knock off a few Mills and Boon to subsidise your other writing…’) It’s impossible to just turn it on and be convincing, you’ve got to be behind your story heart and soul. You have to absolutely believe that this rugged, impossibly handsome man and this feisty, quirkily beautiful and ultimately melting woman would fall in love despite all the obstacles placed in their way.
So, what does the fact that I have a tendency to produce books which combine contemporary and historical narratives say about me?
That I can’t make up my mind?
That I’m easily distracted and can’t keep on one track long enough?
That I’m not dedicated enough to my historical characters to write totally historical fiction?
No. At least, I don’t think any of those things are true.
For me, history is fascinating, particularly the everyday kind of social history – the nitty-gritty of how people lived. I’m not a historian - I studied English at university - but the things I enjoyed most – Anglo Saxon and the History of English – taught me a lot about how England has come to be the country it is now.
I have a feeling that, in my books, I’m trying to work out how, if things had been different in the past, we might be living in a totally different present. More on this, I have a feeling, anon.