Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Jane Austen had it Easy I

Lucky old Jane Austen. In her day she didn't have to worry about characters having to do inconvenient things like earning a living, they could, if necessary, just hang around doing nothing except having picnics and interacting with each other. I'm currently in the middle of my new book and oh, it's frustrating. My characters, like most people, have to keep going to work. They can't loiter and dally, except at weekends and in the evenings. And - if they're not working - there has to be a plausible reason why.

Of course, there are advantages if you can find them a good job, but not all jobs are suitable for writing purposes. At Westonbirt Arboretum last summer I stopped and chatted to a bodger about his work - strictly speaking, a bodger is a man who lathe turns green timber to make chairs legs. He ran chair making courses in the woods and said out of nowhere, 'I wish a romantic novelist would come on one of my courses, I think I'd be a brilliant hero.'

So I told him what I did, but decided against having a bodger in my next book. His chairs were beautiful and I can see there are lots of opportunities for sensuously running hands over chair legs, but it's a solitary, static sort of job, and you're stuck out in the woods. I had a similar problem when I made Will in Nice Girls Do a gardener; he generally had to be there. (And writing this, I realise we never see Will anywhere else except the garden.)

Office-based work is even worse. It's difficult to get any novel action going when you're hunched over a computer all day, and it's hardly wish fulfillment for most people. Small wonder that many main characters have jobs in journalism or PR where they can get out and meet people. Then there are jobs that lack a certain something. I'm sure there are lots of fabulous dentists out there, but it's not a very sexy job. Obscure jobs can be fun - Natalie's job in A Single to Rome was a delight to write - but there are pitfalls here. The least sexy job I've come across was in a self published thriller where the hero was a specialist in intestinal worms in pigs. Original, yes, but I could never take to him - I always knew where his hands had been.

So what with the mechanics and sex appeal and originality - oh yes, it would be so much easier if they could all just hang around and intermingle without having to worry about the 9 to 5.


Jan Jones said...

This, of course is why an ideal M&B hero is a millionaire. No need to waste any of those precious 55K words with work-based activity. He can just get on with the job of falling comprehensively in love with the heroine.

Sarah Duncan said...

LOL Jan. And of course she can spend lots of happy hours/pages trying to work while avoiding his advances but not quite succeeding.