Like most writers, when I started out I didn’t have a clear understanding of what genres were or how they worked. I didn’t have a clue what genre my first novel might be, or that it might matter where it would sit on a bookshop shelf one day.
That novel (mercifully rejected by editors - who are gatekeepers, yes, but for a reason!) was a passionate love story, but it ended with a very grisly suicide on a remote beach. So definitely not one that could be filed on the ‘romance’ shelf…
Some of the feedback I got for that novel said that they couldn’t work out whether it was meant to be a horror. A horror?! It had never occurred to me. I’d just sat down to write the story that was inside my head. I thought I was writing ‘fiction’. But without any conscious planning on my part, I’d been drawn to the dark side.
I hope if you asked anyone who knew me in real life, they’d say that I’m not a particularly dark person. I love a moan (I’m British after all) but I’m generally pretty cheerful and laid-back and I try to see the positives in life where possible.
But I’m also a terrible wimp. I’ve written eight novels now – 6 of which have been published (or are going to be). I’ve covered subjects such as postpartum psychosis, sexual assault, baby-loss, stalking, murder, toxic masculinity and accidental death. My latest novel, The Sanctuary, explores the dark side of wellness culture, and how dangerous it can be to put your life in the hands of self-declared ‘gurus’.
And finally, eight books in, I think I’ve worked out why all my novels, in their own ways, are pretty dark.
I believe it’s one of my brain’s ways of dealing with anxiety. I have an extremely low scare threshold – I can’t watch any kind of violence on screen and I find the news endlessly upsetting and terrifying (although who doesn’t these days, to be fair).
I have anxiety about so many things and yet I am drawn to the things I am most anxious about. I find myself researching things that terrify me. I think by writing about the things that scare me the most, I’m able to get my fears out into the light, to examine them from every angle. And somehow, this makes them less frightening. Knowledge is power, after all.
Over the course of my writing career, I’ve also realised that writing is my therapy. I know that without it, my mental health wouldn’t be as robust as it is. Writing is my way of processing the world, my fears and thoughts, and a way of emptying my noisy, cruel brain of all the things that it likes to haunt me with.
When I write a dark character or dark situation, I know that I am in complete control. I have the ultimate say, and I can determine the outcome of their stories. I think this gives me a safety net to explore my fears.
(I secretly think many writers are control freaks. I certainly am.)
However, as you’d imagine, I’ve often wished my brain worked differently. I would love to write happy, uplifting books and have great admiration for those who do so. It’s true what they say – it’s far harder to write convincingly about happiness than it is about misery.
Most of all, I’m in awe of people who manage to write in multiple genres, and especially those who write thrillers as well as romance – how do they do it? I can start off with the happiest of happy couples and yet within a few thousand words one of them will be plotting the sinister downfall of the other.
I’m determined one day to write a genuine love story, with no horror or cruel fate lying in wait for my protagonists. As writers, we’re always learning, and there’s always room to improve. And perhaps this is why I love this job so much – there’s always something to aspire to, a new challenge to overcome. A new way of looking at the world, and processing what you see.
The Sanctuary by Charlotte Duckworth (Quercus Books) Out Now.
Four pregnant women. Three nights of pampering at an exclusive yoga retreat. One too many deadly secrets . . .On a remote farm in the deepest Devonshire countryside, four pregnant women arrive at an exclusive yoga retreat for a five-star weekend of prenatal pampering. The location is idyllic. Their host, Selina, is eager to teach them all she knows about pregnancy and motherhood. But, like Selina, each of the women has a secret. And secrets can be deadly . . .
You can find out more information about Charlotte and her books on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @charduck and on Instagram @charduck.
Picture © Charlotte Duckworth