The world of literature is bigger now, and full of possibilities. Lines are crossing and blurring and it’s becoming more and more difficult to slot books easily into genres.
This is fantastic.
Not if you’re a bookseller, probably, trying to arrange all your stock in some kind of logical manner, but for writers and readers it’s genuinely the best thing to happen to books since the invention of the printing press.
Whatever your particular brand of storytelling is, it’s all but guaranteed that someone, somewhere will like it, and nowadays it’s much easier to find them.
And because it’s easier for books to find their audience, the range of books has widened, so you can find more and stranger things to read.
Essentially, you can read widely, and write with more freedom. You can second guess less, and experiment more and the only thing you really have to do is make it as good as you can.
It’s a comforting thing to remember, when you’re slaving away alone, day after day. That you are one member of a group of people, spread all over the world, who are really into whatever it is you happen to be writing.
If you can stick it out until you’ve got it all out, and if you can stand the creative cringe of rereading it, if you can figure out what needs fixing, and if you can write it all again, and if you can do that over and over until it’s great, then there will be people ready to welcome it.
All this also means that you can explore more fully just what it is you want to write. There was a stage in my life when I thought I’d write social comedy. I liked fantasy, but it didn’t feel like something I was part of. And then I discovered magical realism and alternate history and thus, my home. As if it had been waiting for me all along.
Like most children who grow up in bookish households I was steeped in C. S. Lewis when I was young. The idea of opening a book being like opening a door to a magical land is hardly original but it remains apt. But for me the best part about that journey, is when you come back. And you find that you’ve brought some of the magic back with you.
I grew out of Narnia, temporarily, when I was a teenager. I grew out of fantasy for a while, but it was waiting for me.
And there was more. A whole new world of slipstream, and magical realism, and urban fantasy that kept the magic in the real world. In my world.
It’s easy for this to feel like an ordinary world. In fact, there are times (like right now) when it’s easy for this world to feel so much worse than ordinary. And it is, of course, both of those things. It’s full of routine, it’s grey and difficult, and awful things happen to, and are done by people.
Reading and writing about fantastical things is, for me, a reminder that the actual world is fantastical too. It’s a reminder to look for them.
I would like to believe in all the fantasy. I would like to believe there are fairies in the garden, that there’s a school of magic in Scotland, that we’re secretly kept safe from great evil by people who can fly and shoot lasers from their eyes.
But really, the only reason we don’t think the everyday things we experience are magical is because we experience them every day. Waking up next to the same person every morning without thinking about how incredible they are. Catching the tube without watching the light slowly appear and grow in the tunnel before the train appears.
When I wrote Of Things Gone Astray I didn’t plan the magical elements as specific metaphors for real life, but the effects on the characters. Mrs Featherby loses her front wall, and so loses the privacy that is so important to her. Cassie loses her freedom because she loses her heart.
The things that happen to us, the good things and the bad, are often so out of our control that they may as well be supernatural. Waking up in the middle of an earthquake. Finding a job you’re passionate about. Falling in love.
And when we can control things, when we decide to live in one country instead of the other, when we walk away from the traps we sometimes get stuck in, when the choices we make have a real impact on our lives and the lives around us, there’s a power in that that is real.
I write magical realism because I believe the real world is magical. And because that can be hard to remember.
Here are five tips for writing magical realism:
- You’re first draft is for you. Don’t think about anyone else while you’re working on it – just write something you want to read.
- Don’t let anyone read your first draft, not ever, not even years later as a joke.
- Leave yourself plenty of time between drafts. You will need to grow balls of steel to be able to read over what you’ve written.
- Think about how you want to talk about your book and when you’ll be ready. It’s really embarrassing when people ask you what it’s about and you don’t have a ready answer.
- Amid all the stress and self-doubt, remember how much you actually enjoy the process of writing stories.
(c) Janina Matthewson
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Janina Matthewson moved to London following the earthquake, an event which features as a pivotal part of her novel.
A trained actress, Janina has also written for the stage and screen. Her first play, Human and If was performed at The Tea House Theatre in London, directed by Sue Curnow. Her short film, The Other Side, was shown as part of the Rialto Channel’s 48 Hours project in New Zealand. She currently works for Sky, where she spends her days writing reviews.
About Of Things Gone Astray
Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight …
On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.
Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death in an earthquake, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realise that his most valuable possession is slipping away from him.
Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values. Perfect for fans of Andrew Kaufman and Cecelia Ahern.
Read our review here.
Of Things Gone Astray is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.