Happy and heavenly. That's my recipe for post-2016 fiction.
I have just had the usual intake of this morning’s ghastly news. The situation in and around North Korea is just getting worse. And the Russians keep denying that they ever hacked the US elections. Or that Assad used chemical weapons. And the Brits are embroiled in messy Brexit negotiations. And the French in equally messy presidential elections. And Donald Trump tweeted…
OK, OK. Never mind what Donald Trump tweeted.
Every time I read this kind of news a few months ago, I told myself, ‘Oh, this is just so 2016.’
No more. Because 2016 came and went, and 2017 seems to be no better.
What should we do? I have a friend who has stopped following the news altogether. Instead, she’s reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
‘It’s all there,’ she tells me. ‘The division. The competition. The short-sightedness. The stupidity. The unstoppable downgrade.’
She looks me straight in the eye. ‘Mind you,’ she says. ‘That’s where we’re heading.’
Yet if that’s the zeitgeist of our times – this resigned, apathetic gloom – how does it impact on us? Our thinking? Our living? Our… reading?
I read the other day that dystopian novels are thriving during this new era of division and populism. I haven’t seen any hard sales figures to back up this claim; yet, who knows, maybe there is some truth in it.
Still, I’m left wondering if dystopian novels are the best medicine for an increasingly dejected populace. Rather I would think that there could – and should – be a demand for outrageously optimistic feel-good novels; that when Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen succeed in the real world, the likes of Forrest Gump shine in the fictional world. That’s at least what I’d wish to read. For if I want an escape from this worrisomely sombre world of 2017, I wish that world to be painted in shades of cadmium yellow and shiny light blue. And, fine. Throw in some pale pink… and I’m perfectly happy with what I’m reading.
A quote comes to mind, from Michelle Obama actually, when she was speaking at the Democratic National Convention last summer. ‘When they go low, we go high,’ she said. And I might be completely misinterpreting what she said, but for me that sounds like a call to action for all fiction writers: that when times go low, stories go high. Or at least they should.
That’s one of the reasons why I started to write a fantasy series that’s unlike anything I’ve ever written or read. Called the Angel Aid series, these books are just as luminous as most fantasy books are dark. They narrate the human life of a former angel, and the rise and fall of a charitable agency in a small Tuscan village. There’s plenty of friendship, and sisterhood, and people lending a helping hand to other people. And of course, they make mistakes. And stumble. And fall. But eventually, they get up again. Good prevails, in the end.
As for the colour chart of my Angel Aid books… Well, obviously, there are all my favourite colours. There’s that bright, happy cadmium yellow. And meditative sky blue.
And pink. Yes, plenty of pink.
And hope. And optimism… Shameless – almost ridiculous – optimism.
Happy endings are, of course, part of the menu. (How could it be otherwise?) But, mind you, not sickly sugary forced happy endings, but true-to-life, down-to-earth happy endings, where the characters get what they need, and not what they want.
I can’t deny it: writing this series has become a sublime form of escapism for me. So much so that I just might give a copy of The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice (the first book in the series) to my friend who’s reading Gibbon. Because, you know, brilliant as it may be, I still can’t help wondering if Gibbon’s narrative might have had more yellow and pink in it... if only angels had walked on the streets of Ancient Rome.