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Writer in Training

Help, My Mum Might Read This!

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Or, in my case, almost certainly will. Hi, mum! In a recent conversation with someone about writing fantasy, I was asked if my book was like A Song of Ice and Fire, with lots of sex, violence and bad language. I laughed and answered that no, mine is very clean in comparison. The person I was speaking to asked me if this was a deliberate choice - was it a moral position? My response was that it's clean because my mum is going to read it.

Now, that was jest in part, but only in part.

Ashael Rising does not contain a lot of strong language. A large part of that is because I don't swear much so it doesn't come naturally to me to write that way. Where the scene called for it, I have put in a few swear words - although my husband assures me they're very mild ones. Nothing worse than the later Harry Potter books, for instance. If I do ever write a scene where a lot of swearing would be appropriate, I think I might struggle with that. Like I said, it's not really my style - but also, my mum will read it!

I think that reticence speaks to something that many creators experience. When you write, you uncover a lot about yourself. Many characters have aspects of the writer. Relationships in the story may reflect elements of your real life relationships. In a way, we are laid bare on the page.

It's strange, but the thought of a complete stranger seeing me reflected on the page that way does not feel at all as threatening as knowing that my family and friends will read it. Will people we know look at the romantic relationships in Ashael Rising and draw conclusions about my relationship with my husband? Will they read the occasional violent scene and wonder if that violence is in me, lurking just below the surface?

I wonder how other authors get around this feeling of exposure. Do they ask their family not to read their books? Are they less shy than me? When George R. R. Martin first wrote a graphic sex scene, did he worry about what his mother would think? Does Christopher Brookmyre swear as much as his characters do?

While I'm actually writing, these thoughts are nowhere near me; I'm so totally involved in the story that I'm not thinking about any potential reader at all - I'm telling myself the story, first. During the editing process is when I start to think about readers and wonder what they will think. That self-consciousness that I imagine all creators experience. Perhaps it's something that gets easier with time.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King recounts an experience in school when a teacher asked him why he wanted to waste his talent writing horror. That voice stayed in his head for a long time, leading him to always be a little ashamed of his work. I imagine he knows just what I mean when I mention my parents reading my work. In another part of the book , he mentions his mother asking why he uses so much bad language and how he felt the language was appropriate for the characters he was writing. Maybe that's what allows us to move forward - when the writing, be it bad language or graphic scenes, is appropriate to the story, then maybe it feels necessary, whoever is going to read it.

My hope is that, eventually, my writing will be strong enough that my readers (parents included) are as lost on the story as I am. That they won't be aware of me, but only of the characters.