Thursday, 3 March 2016
Nobody wants to read about your man-flu
I’ve been holding off writing my first post here because I’ve spent the first couple of weeks of the crowdfunding fixated by my man-flu. And, let’s face it, nobody wants to read about your man-flu. Still, this reminds me of something that I reckon I should share with those of you who’ve kindly shown an interest in this book. Just as nobody wants to read a blog-post about the flu, I once heard a writer I rate proclaim that nobody wants to a read a novel about long, agonising, terminal sickness. The writer was Paul Auster and he made that remark during a talk at the Shaw Theatre, right next to the British Library, in October 2012. And I remember sitting in the audience and thinking: “Oh shit!” – because by then I'd been trying for six years to write a novel about a teenage carer and the book focused a lot on the long, drawn-out horror of his mother’s sickness. I wanted to show just how ugly things can get for these kids. But Auster’s words seemed to add to what had then become a general chorus of people who were urging me to give up on the book.
Auster went on to explain that the problem with terminal illness in novels is that you know it's always gonna end in death and so there's no fundamental way to surprise the reader. But there was also another big challenge with the book I was trying to nail: when it comes to young carers, there's no overt conflict – no perpetrator of the harm that happens to these kids. After all, it's hardly their parents' fault. When you look at some other instances where childhood is robbed, there's often an individual or institution that you can blame – particularly in the case of child abuse. Young carers may not be victims of abuse, but their childhood still gets stolen. And this is a big part of the tragedy for them: it's hard to get the rest of the world fired up about their plight because there's no villain to point the finger at – no institution or wrongdoer to fight. And no one wants to read a story that contains no conflict.
So this book has been a tough sell because, in theory, a story about a young carer seems to flout two basic storytelling requirements: the need for surprise and the need for conflict. But I’ve pressed on with it regardless because I think that, if you sweat at it hard enough, you can tell a compelling story about a young carer, and in a way that contains both terrifying conflict and surprise. It just took me a long time to figure out how to make it work. A lot of the conflict you find in this world is pretty awful because these kids are largely fighting themselves. Their primal human relationship with their parent becomes a love-hate thing and that love-hate thing becomes a default setting for everything. But, more importantly, even if the plight of young carers really didn't meet all those standard storytelling requirements, so friggin what? Why the hell should they be denied having their reality reflected in fiction?
For all of these reasons, crowdfunding has proved the perfect model for this book. After all, who is anyone to prejudge what people want to read except for readers themselves? It's why I'm very grateful to the people at Unbound for taking on this project and I'm grateful to all of you who have supported it. We're now 25 per cent funded, but we've still got a long way to go to make this happen. So I'd really appreciate it if you could continue spreading the word and urging your friends to pre-order a copy and just generally help to get this book out there. Nobody wants to read about man-flu, but they might get to read this story about the hidden world of young carers.
Thank you again,