What doesn’t kill you … makes a good novel

Conflict lies at the heart of the novel, the soap opera and the movie.  As human beings, we like to see how other overcome difficulties and heartache to emerge triumphant and stronger.  So-called ‘misery memoirs’ cash in on this and are enjoying their moment as a popular genre.  Whilst not specifically my thing (there’s only so much “Please, Mummy, No!” or abused puppy farm dogs one can take) they illustrate my point well: humans want to observe how others deal with conflict.

I’m a great believer in ‘no pain, no gain’ and trouble and struggles in our everyday lives make great material for writing.   Writing from personal experience adds a depth and authenticity that no amount of research can recreate.  My favourite authors prove this:  Marian Keyes has battled depression and alcoholism; as an attorney John Grisham spent years in courtrooms; and Kathy Reichs has conducted thousands of autopsies and assisted in many murder investigations.

We are in the middle of trying to move house and it is a truly soul-destroying, expensive and exhausting experience.  How bad can it be?, I thought before I took the plunge myself after hearing others’ horror stories. (“Never again” is what most say.  I now agree.) Five months in and I can confirm buying and selling one’s home is truly horrific.  It is so expensive I may as well walk down the street liberally throwing banknotes around.  The English property market affords every kind of time-waster and opportunist a safe haven to mess others about and rip them off .  But … it would make a great setting for a novel.  Just from some of the characters I’ve observed – estate agents, solicitors, vendors, viewers – there are some amusing and horrific tales to tell which anyone who has ever moved house could easily identify with.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and if you’re lucky, a rainbow.  There have been wonderful moments of levity.  For example, one property we viewed was obviously used for, ahem, “entertaining”, plus I will never forget the hilarious altercation between an estate agent and a small yappy dog at another house. (Why do animals always make a bee-line for those who are wary of them?)  For two gorgeous moments there was a blur of shiny suit, bared teeth and growling.  Friends have their own stories to add, like the couple who bought a house which turned out to not actually be for sale.  And even the most mild-mannered person I know has threatened to do physical harm to an estate agent.

Perhaps it’s like giving birth or flying long haul in economy: awful at the time but the minute you see the end product (the baby, the beach, the lovely new house) it is all worth it.  The body quickly forgets pain.

It’s hard at the time when in the thick of the misery of a bad situation (death of a loved one, divorce etc) to see how it can be of any benefit but it all adds to our richness of experience as a human and as a writer, provides wonderful source of material.  And what doesn’t kill you will make a great setting for your next novel and may possibly be cathartic to write.

Watch out for the house moving novel here!


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