Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Case for LDS Fiction

Our "local" LDS Bookshop (about 50 miles away) has started sending me regular emails about the special offers available, and the new releases now available instore and online. They've got some tempting offers, and it's the only place in the UK you can buy root beer, so I called there a couple of weeks ago.

The bookshop is in the gorgeous village of Godstone, near the London Temple (there's business acumen for you) but the downside of being an LDS bookstore in the UK is that everything you stock has to be imported from the USA, which makes it all extremely expensive, even with the tempting offers. So I usually salivate over the stock (Paper and stickers for a baptism scrapbook! Family Home Evening plaques on which you can hang the names of each family member! Salt Lake Temple tea light reflectors!) and plan what I will fill my spare suitcase with next time I visit the USA (April 2010).

I found, on visiting the shop, that there are only five small shelves dedicated to LDS fiction. It's not a big shop, and they have all those other lovely things to stock, but I still couldn't help wishing there were a few more titles.

I can see the reasoning; inspirational, spiritual and scholarly works are probably bigger sellers, and Church members can't get those anywhere else. Whereas, fans of fiction can go into any supermarket and pick up several really well-written (and much cheaper) novels. After all, a novel is a novel; surely it makes no difference whether or not one of the characters happens to be LDS?

I happen to believe it is very important. Speaking as a convert living in a place where few people have even heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it can feel like a lifeline reading about other members, even fictional ones, and the lives they live in far-off places where others don't view them as an oddity. What's more they are people who go through challenges and trials, romance and adventure, whilst staying true to what they believe. They set a good example, and they can inspire as much as anything in the more cerebral works. And fiction is so much easier and more fun to read!

Yes, the market is awash with secular fiction, and much of it is wonderful. But much of it, too, contains scenes which, if in a movie, would be given an 18 (R) rating, and unlike movies books don't show the rating on the cover. The characters often behave badly, make wrong choices without suffering consequences, and hold views which are contrary to the gospel. Whilst there is a great deal of very good literature out there (most of it over 50 years old) there is also plenty that offends the spirit. The discerning LDS reader might prefer to relax with a good good book.

I haven't read much LDS fiction (see note above about bookshop not stocking it) but what I have read has been every bit as good as anything by any bestselling author stocked in my local (1 mile away) supermarket.That is basically why I will be taking advantage of those special offers and buying at least one LDS fiction book every time I got to the LDS bookshop at Godstone (that's every month, when I go to the Temple). I want them to know just how popular well-written LDS fiction is. And when I go to Florida next year, I'll be taking an extra suitcase with me so that I can visit Boyd's LDS Books in Orlando and take home an entire case of LDS fiction.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Enter the Character

In 1990, Joanne Rowling was travelling on a train when Harry Potter "Just strolled into my head, fully formed." Nine years later began the phenomenon every writer dreams of - book sales breaking records, children discovering the joy of reading, and no financial worries ever again.

I don't begrudge her any of it - I love those books too. But until recently I was twisted with jealousy over the way her character, and presumably his story, came to her so easily. If you read these blogs regularly you'll know that I am struggling with my current work and even gave up on it a few months ago, before taking it out and dusting it off again with a sigh (and a sneeze). I think I'm finding it particularly difficult because my last book, Easterfield, was a joy to write - it pretty much just fell out of the ends of my fingers.

Two days ago I experienced an exciting flash of inspiration when the character of Amelia Druce swam into my head, fully formed. Yes, she really did swim, and not only was I able to see that she could do with losing a few pounds around the waistline and freshening up her hair colour, but I knew all about her failed marriages, her cossetted childhood, and her love of snow globes. I knew how she thought, which of her friends she liked the most, and exactly what funny things were going to happen to her in the course of the book.

Half-an-hour later I had not only written a whole introductory chapter about Amelia, but I knew how her story would intersect with those of her friends, and how her friends' characters complemented and contradicted hers. (Her friends didn't swim into my head - Maralee marched, Dolphin danced and Jen jumped. Tip for writers: always avoid affected, awkward and annoying alliteration - but when you get to know these characters as I have, you'll see what I mean.)

Unfortunately when I say "written", I mean "composed" because, as always happens with flashes of inspiration, I was nowhere near a computer at the time. I was, in fact, in the steam room at my gym, my second-favourite place in the world for quiet time, introspection and deep thought. (A banana for whoever can guess the first.) Not really somewhere I can take a laptop.

Even more unfortunately, Amelia Druce is not a character in the book I am currently labouring over, but the one I will start once I have finished it. So you may have to wait quite some time to learn about the tangled love lives of Amelia, Maralee, Dolphin and Jen. And in the meantime, as Dory would say, Amelia can just keep swimming. And I can be thankful that, once in a while, I can share the creative experience of a really great writer.