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Happy Happy Happy

December 7, 2010

I’m generally a genuinely happy person, but I’m compelled to write quite grim fiction. And ‘compelled’ is absolutely the word. Left to my own devices, I will endeavour to make things as difficult and unpleasant for my characters as possible, without really thinking about it.

When I do think about it, though, I feel a bit guilty. A bit like a tourist. And I wonder why I don’t write more escapist fiction, or even just more celebratory stuff.

I think the answer is that, really, the books I love are those that wake me up a bit, the books that are upsetting, the books that don’t take me away from the world but instead force me brain-first into it in ways that I didn’t anticipate. And when it comes to writing, I… well, I just don’t quite see the point in writing happy books. Entertaining books, yes, fine, and of course many of the most effective and moving books are also entertaining – some of my favourite books ever are Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Chronicles, which are enormously entertaining – but ‘entertaining’ and ‘happy’ are two different things.

How do other people feel about this? I am starting to worry that maybe I am a ‘curmudgeon’.

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From → Writing

16 Comments
  1. I tend to think that some people have a tendency towards, well, darker thoughts. Every time I set out to write something (fictional rather than non-fiction), where the initial idea has seemed quite innocent and light, it emerges out of my fingers and onto the keyboard as considerably darker. I don’t think there’s much we can do about it – that’s not defeatist, just realistic. I’ve rather come to the conclusion that there are enough writers in the world that a sizable number of them will take care of the happy stuff, leaving others to plough the curmudgeonly furrow.

    • fellhouse permalink

      Thanks for commenting, Vaughan.

      It is a good point that there are lots of writers in the world. Readers have plenty to choose from if they don’t get the same kicks from the curmudgeonly furrow (I like that terminology) as we do.

  2. Aka a Young Foggy?

  3. …I meant Young Fogey!

  4. Oh, can we start a literary ‘school’, please (I hear they’re all the rage these days) called ‘the Young Foggies?

    • fellhouse permalink

      I think we should!

      (Or maybe we just have? Maybe this is all it takes?)

      • Oh dear, do be careful. Look at the fine mess this kind of fast and loose talk got us lot into. One soiree with a bunch of drunken bloggers and I’m bound with an enormous pressure to write things as nice as I spell them. Gah.

    • fellhouse permalink

      It is only the very recent emergence of #beatoff that prevents me from embracing the idea of The #YoungFoggies fully. Though maybe there is some potential for cross-fertilisation?

      And you’re right, Clare – it feels very easy to accidentally start a literary school / movement just by talking about it.

  5. My Thoughts:

    1. Curmudgeonly is the BEST BEST BEST word in the WORLD.
    2. Happy endings are anti realist and I don’t think the realist novel is dead and I like reading them.
    2 (b) and yet, I watched A Miracle on 34th Street with my Small Fry this afternoon and I cried. Something sickening about broken homes being made right again. Perhaps I’m not (wo)man enough for a happy ending. They’re harder, aren’t they? They are for me.
    3. Yes, lets start a club. I hate clubs. I’m in. Are you in?

    • fellhouse permalink

      1. I need to come clean – I spelled ‘curmudgeon’ wrongly in my original post. Vaughan very subtly included the correctly spelled word in his response, and so I went back and corrected the post. (Thanks Vaughan).

      2. I can’t understand why anybody would say / believe that the realist novel is dead. ‘Real’ is different to how it used to be. It’s always filling up with lots of new things that need novels to include them. I’m thinking of things like ‘The Bird Room’ by Chris Killen, which feels very surreal and hallucinogenic and post-modern and ambiguous, but works as realism. And I agree happy endings (endings full stop) are anti-realist.
      2 (b) I think writing a happy ending must be incredibly difficult. Beyond my current abilities, definitely. I haven’t yet felt the urge to try, but I imagine one day I’ll feel differently.

      3. I’m in! (Not sure which club I mean, but I won’t specify because if I specify then I won’t have any ‘wriggle room’).

  6. Hi Tom,
    I like ‘curmudgeon’ too – and I like dark books. That said, I’m not afraid of a happy ending when it’s done right, with plenty of darkness and grimness before it. But a whole happy book, that’s actually good? I don’t know who could write such a thing, apart from maybe Stevie Wonder, if he ever turned his hand to fiction. The books I enjoy the most – same with songs, plays, pretty much everything – have a good mixture of happy and grim; the more complex the emotions involved, the more effective they are for me. In terms of entertainment/happiness, I think humour will always be the saving grace. If something makes me laugh it can take me to hell and back and I’ll forgive it.
    Looking forward to more of the new blog!
    x Em

    • fellhouse permalink

      Humour! Yes. I found ‘The Death Of Bunny Munro’ by Nick Cave one of the funniest and yet heartbreaking books I’ve read recently.

      Also, there is something quite moving about humour in the face of impossible odds, I think. A tiny joke in ‘The Road’ can be pure humour and yet carry more emotional weight, due to the context, than a very serious death scene in another book.

      Then there’s Muriel Spark… I think the way she mingles very sharp humour with very dark themes so deftly is extraordinary.

  7. I don’t mind a good or bad ending as long as it actually has one!

  8. Two more things, then:

    (i) I think “curmudgeons” – or #youngfoggies, as the already growing artistic movement is called – probably get more out of a happy ending than the Happy People. We appreciate it more. It has more effect on us. I’ve cried at happy endings of films and books much more than my curmudgeonly exterior would care to admit.

    (ii) To be a club / movement etc, we have to have a manifesto. But I hate manifestos. Ugh. They’re so happy and positive.

  9. fellhouse permalink

    Maybe there is a manifesto on its way? I need to make my contribution to the #beatoff manifesto, anyway… should we have a #youngfoggy manifesto too?

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