Author feature: Wendy Janes (@wendyproof) on getting close to a story… maybe too close?

By | August 25, 2016

31134723

People tell me what an awful place Twitter can be – but I have to say my experience is totally different, and I’ve made some lovely friends just through a chance comment or retweet. And that’s where I first came across author (and proofreader) Wendy Janes – I’m so looking forward to reading and reviewing her new collection, What Tim Knows, and other stories, in October.

Until then, I’m really delighted to share an absolutely lovely article that Wendy wrote about getting close to a story – but maybe too close?

w4400

I recently had the strange experience of taking on the symptoms of a character in a book I was reading. It started me thinking about the ways in which I’m drawn into a story.

I often choose to read books that I know will reflect my own experiences, and while reading them I enjoy taking a trip down memory lane. The Exclusives by Rebecca Thornton reminded me of my years as a pupil at an English grammar school for girls: the intense relationships; the competitiveness; the really clever girls preparing for entry to Oxford or Cambridge. As I read I saw my own school’s corridors and classrooms, and images of girls I’d not thought of for years came back to me. I could almost picture myself as a teenager wearing my old school uniform, an observer to the drama unfolding at the school.

51YW-UXVnFL

Bev Spicer’s One Summer in France took me right back to the heat, wine and boys that accompanied my own summer holiday in the South of France with my best friend. At moments in the story the tang of the ripe tomatoes we ate straight from the fridge, the rasp of the sheets against sun-burnt skin, would return to me. As did the deep brown eyes of that boy who danced with me under the stars…

The re-awakening of old memories creates a stronger bond with a story and adds another dimension to my reading experience.

This also happens when even the most mundane of things going on in the present, echo elements in a story I’m reading. For example, in Jane Davis’s A Funeral for an Owl, a character refers to a football match between English teams called Crystal Palace and Manchester United and that a final goal was scored by a player called Alan Pardew. The day I read that scene, the same teams were playing in a big cup final and the manager was Alan Pardew. I’m not even a football fan, but the tiny coincidence resonated with me and made me feel that it was right that I was reading that book at exactly that moment. Another sporting link occurred when I was reading Mark Lawson’s The Deaths. There’s a raucous scene with lads from a rugby club that I read the same day that I’d been to a raucous rugby club quiz night. As I say, they’re tiny coincidences, but I love this synchronicity.

wendy1

I also love the wonderful feeling of relating to a character in a book. Sometimes it’s a little thing. In Kerry Fisher’s After the Lie, her lead character mentions how her husband indulges her need to have a particular mug for her tea. I don’t wish to get into a competition regarding being picky about mug choices, but everyone in our family knows that I must have my Underground map of London mug for my breakfast tea, a plain white one for afternoon tea, and a bright red one if I’m having a rare treat of a cup of coffee. Sorry, I’ve digressed, let’s get back to the books.

Beautifully crafted writing can make the most subtle of characters come alive. It’s a joy to relate to these characters, and although I may not necessarily have exactly the same experiences as them, I just know who they are and how they feel. This happened in Peter Davey’s sublime Simone, Simone, where Alain pines for his lost youth and a lost love, and in Miriam Drori’s wonderful Neither Here Nor There, where Esty is overwhelmed and conflicted by the opportunities and freedom outside of her closed community.

wendy2

Feeling so close to those characters means they’ve stayed with me, and the bond I had with them when I met them in the pages of their stories, continues.

On occasion, something more than a bond happens, and a character inhabits my thoughts even more deeply, which results in something that could possibly be called ‘character hypochondria’.

My earliest memory of doing this reaches back to my childhood reading of Peter Pan. My mother had a beautifully illustrated copy that I would read over and over again. It didn’t matter that I looked nothing like the Wendy in the illustrations. I was Wendy Darling, waiting night after night for Peter to fly to my open bedroom window and take me away to Never Never Land. When Wendy sewed Peter’s shadow back on to his feet my own feet would become hot and my heels begin to prickle with sharp pin pricks. There’s an uncomfortable itch in my heels as I type this. Oh, and I was so jealous of Tinkerbell’s relationship with Peter. Yes, completely irrational, I know, and not a healthy indicator for how I’d react to any boyfriends’ previous girlfriends a decade or so later. As the story drew to a close I experienced a mother’s anxiety for her daughter and a mourning for her own youth when Peter flew away with Wendy’s daughter, Jane, which was far too early for a little girl to comprehend, let alone feel.

Fast forward to the 1990s and although I was married and had children, and was that a bit older than many of the characters I was reading about, a number of chick-lit heroines put a spring in my step and a smile on my face. The best being the eponymous heroine of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Helen Fielding’s Bridget displayed a mixture of anxiety and exuberance that rubbed off on me. Her voice came over so clearly in the book, I could hear my voice narrating my day in true Bridget Jones style. She helped me put a positive spin on minor disasters, which was v.v.g.

24179216

Most recently my character hypochondria resurfaced while reading Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, where Maud suffers from dementia. In so many scenes I viscerally experienced her confusion and her fear. My heart would race, I’d go hot and cold. I was as lost as she was. This even affected my own thought processes outside of the book. I kept forgetting words for everyday things and the names of people. I’d buy items at shops only to return home to find I’d already bought them. It took a huge effort of will to recall what I’d just done or what I did the previous day. I put this down to the power of the writing, the author’s ability to describe Maud’s state of mind so completely. When I stopped reading, I’m happy to report that my mind cleared.

I wonder whether other readers have a special bond with particular books or characters. Is it a common thing to take on the traits of characters you’re reading about?

Wendy, that article triggered so many thoughts – from the impact of the father’s wrongly-buttoned cardigan and vase of flowers in Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake to being convinced I was on the slippery slope while reading Lisa Genova’s Still Alice… how about everyone else?

Author profile

Wendy Janes spends her time writing novels and short stories, running her freelance proofreading business and volunteering for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service. She is the author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and a collection of short stories, What Tim Knows, and other stories. She loves to take real life and turn it into fiction. You can connect with Wendy online and discover more about her via Twitter, her Facebook author page, her Website, and Amazon author pages (UK/US).

29 thoughts on “Author feature: Wendy Janes (@wendyproof) on getting close to a story… maybe too close?

    1. Anne Post author

      Isn’t it just, Linda? Thanks for commenting – it’s very “me” too…!

    2. Wendy Janes

      Thanks, Linda. I hope you enjoy your experiences of ‘character hypochondria’!

  1. Wendy Janes

    Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Anne. Oh, how could I have omitted Still Alice from this post? I read it when it first came out. Thanks for reminding me about such an amazing book. I’m now remembering the last scene…so moving.

    1. Anne Post author

      Such a pleasure Wendy – I love this post! I’m a great one for inhabiting my characters as I read, and your post just totally summed it up for me – I’m coming up with so many more examples as I think about it. Thank you for being my guest x

  2. Jan Brigden

    Great post! A really interesting read that has made me think about books I’ve read and if they have affected me in the same way. Very thought-provoking! 🙂 X

    1. Anne Williams

      Same here, Jan! Thanks for commenting x

    2. Wendy Janes

      So pleased you enjoyed the post, Jan.

  3. olganm

    Wendy has a way with words. And yes, I recognise myself in what she say. 🙂

    1. Anne Post author

      And so do I, Olga – thanks for your comment!

    2. Wendy Janes

      That’s so kind. Thank you, Olga.

  4. Peter Davey

    A fascinating post, Wendy, and thanks for hosting it, Anne. It made me think deeply about the reading experience – especially as I tend do go for character-lead novels – but it also occurred to me how familiar characters take shape during one’s own writing and then become transformed – a mysterious and very exciting process! Thanks again.

    1. Anne Post author

      Thanks for your comment Peter – a really excellent post, and glad you enjoyed it…

    2. Wendy Janes

      Great to hear you enjoyed the post, Peter. Ah, yes, the relationship that develops between writer and character is fascinating.

  5. bevalex

    Thanks for alerting me to this post – I’m not a regular Twitterer, but I picked up your tweet and am always interested in what you write, whether it’s a blog post or a very accomplished novel. I shall download your latest one without doubt. Love Peter Davey’s writing too – evocative without being sentimental. And thanks for the mention – glad One Summer in France sparked some good memories.

    1. Anne Post author

      Thanks you, Bev… I’ll make sure Wendy sees your lovely comment 😊

    2. Wendy Janes

      Oh, thank you, Bev. That’s so lovely to hear. Hope you enjoy the stories. Yes, One Summer in France took me right back! 🙂 Smashing that you’re a fan of Peter Davey’s writing too!

  6. perfectprosesservices

    Great article, Wendy/Anne. I know exactly what you mean. I often used to buy books when abroad so when I read them it would remind me of my visit to a particular place. I also was reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown when a new pope was being selected. What were the chances? And I, like you with Wendy in Peter Pan, was Sebastian in The Neverending Story! It was so nice to see so many independent authors mentioned in this article too. Some I know through Twitter, others I don’t, but it’s enough to nudge me in the direction of reading a few of the books – thanks!

    1. Wendy Janes

      Thanks, Sooz, and thanks for sharing your reading experiences. What a great way to remember a visit abroad, and what a jolly good papal coincidence. Yes, when I looked back at the books I’d chosen, I was happy to note the number of indie authors in there. Hope you enjoy the ones I’ve nudged you towards. 🙂

    1. Wendy Janes

      So pleased you enjoyed this post and that it’s bringing back memories for you.

  7. Bun Karyudo

    What a fun post! I particularly liked the part about your jealously of Tinkerbell. (That little fairy is always causing trouble!) Just as one of the previous commenters said, I knew what character hypochondria was, I just didn’t have a name for it. 🙂

    1. Wendy Janes

      Thank you (do I call you Bun?), I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. I love the posts you write on your blog, so the fact that you’ve found this a fun post makes me particularly happy! 🙂

  8. Anne Post author

    Thank you everyone for your comments on Wendy’s lovely post!😊

  9. cicampbell2013

    I just read this lovely post again, having remembered it when reading a book where I just couldn’t relate to the main character at all. I wonder if we could come up with a name for that too – character unrelatability seems a tad clumsy!

    1. Wendy Janes

      Thanks, Christine. Hmmm… I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. 🙂

Comments are closed.