Sense of another place
The day after I got homel, while everyone was rushing out to the Good Friday service or to buy last minute Easter eggs, I made coffee and curled up with my blanket, my sore sinuses and my books. What a delight to know I had two weeks of unbroken reading, if I wanted it! The Soldier's Wife was interesting. My dad had been in the army and my childhood was pock-marked with his absences in some of the world's most dangerous places. I clearly remember my mum's haunted looks whenever the vicar came to call, and her relief when it was about the choir or the Harvest Supper. The Keeper of Lost Things was divine - beautifully written and moving. I love Anne Tyler but strangely wasn't in the mood for her. It was the Jenny Colgan book that surprised me most of all.
Please forgive me for my snobbery, but it's not the kind of book I usually read. It was called The Little Shop of Happy Ever After. The cover was a bit twenty-something-chick-lit with a cross-legged girl in pink trousers on the ground reading a book. Not that's there's anything wrong with that, but I'm in my fifties, wear Marks and Spencers jeans and am fast approaching the "while I'm down here..."stage of life, regarding the ground generally. But I was attracted by the blurb, which was by the author and directly addressed the reader, promising a cosy read. It was a bit different. And the story really appealed to me - after quitting the library when her beloved job helping people choose books turns into a computer role, Nina leaves Birmingham and turns a clapped out old van into a mobile bookshop in the Scottish Highlands. It was wonderful. Now I'm onto my second Jenny Colgan, The Little Beach Street Bakery. I'm totally converted. Happily there are hundreds (well, perhaps not hundreds but a lot).
I've been trying to analyse why I love her books. They are simply written, involve some kind of love interest and are not particularly thought provoking or surprising. But their real strength, in my opinion, is in their sense of place. Who wouldn't want to escape their current life to live in the beautiful Scottish Highlands selling books? Or heal from the past by doing up an old house on a tiny island and baking your way into the community's hearts. Yes, they might be a bit far-fetched, with unashamedly happy endings, but they transport you to a different world where you hear sea gulls or see mountains or live above a bakery with a view of the sea. And sometimes, after a bad day, or an operation, or a wrestling match with the London parking police, that's just what you need.
It made me think about what I want to write. Of course it's right to challenge people at times, to explore difficult issues or discuss new ideas. And quality is important - beautiful words that are well crafted and inspirational. It's good to write, and read, such things. But sometimes should we just give people what they want instead of something we think is good for them? A soothing journey to another place where, in the end, the sky turns blue and dreams come good. Despite a sort of (shameful) prejudice against such books, I am realising they have their place.
Obviously it helps to write books people want to read, if we want to sell them. But to what extent should we do this? Should we ever compromise what we really want to write, to get our name out there? Could this 'earn us the right' to say other things later? Or should we write what is on our hearts even though it's a bit quirky, a bit different to anything else we've seen?
These and other questions are always on my mind as I hammer out my story, trying my best to craft something thoughtful but also to give people a break from their own lives, a sense of another place.
Please click on the link to see the novella
Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.