Many years ago, I thought I was Victoria Holt. I really did think I could write as well as she did. Sadly, I was proved wrong – as I discovered when I found an old, printed booklet I’d made using an ancient version of Word (it was even before we had Windows 97 with the ‘revolutionary’ multi-window-open option) and a kind of macro programme from a company called Blue Squirrel which you added to your version of Word and it let you print out booklets. I think they offered a giant stapler for sale as an extra, so you could keep your lovingly crafted novella together. I didn’t get the stapler, and it was an awfully thin novel anyway; but I found the booklet as I say and had to have a read of it. As you can see by the picture, it would not look out of place on any bookshelf. The cover, by the way, is a picture called “The Dreamer” which I absolutely fell in love with and printed out on glossy paper with a title and everything. You will see the title is covered. It’s because it’s a very bad title.
It really was quite a cringeworthy book, although It did have some redeeming features, and some sections I would happily lift out of there and transplant into a new novel – but on the whole it was pretty awful. It was clichéd and I had this ubiquitous ghost wandering around as well. I’m fairly sure Victoria Holt never used a ghost in her Gothic Romances. I also had a bad guy with flashing dark eyes and a saturnine smile (which should, I think have been satanic – saturnine actually means gloomy and morose!). My bad guy (who was my own rubbish interpretation of Heathcliff and a Byronic Hero and not half so well-written) ended up being pushed off a cliff by the ghost, leaving my dozy, irritating, colourless, dull heroine free to fall into the arms of the man she had literally met the day beforehand; who, surprise, surprise, turned out to be the satanic guy’s long-lost, presumed-dead brother. Well now – who didn’t see that coming? The mere fact this person was living in a cottage just outside the estate under an assumed identity would perhaps mean he and his brother’s paths had crossed at some point; but I obviously underestimated my targeted readership and the fact they would have been intelligent people and realised that.
Now, I recently had a stonkingly scathing review from someone who said my writing was amateurish, clichéd and virtually unpublishable – so I do wonder if she actually read the pre-Windows 97 novel instead of one of my published (publishable) novels, but I suspect not. So it has made me view this old work in a different light. It has made me think about rewriting it, and taking out my ghost. It has made me think about removing my darkly-glowering satanic anti-hero and giving the heroine a bit longer to fall in love with a decent guy. Oh- and maybe not marry a man a week after she met him whilst wandering on a Scottish moor. But I’m not quite sure how to go about it. Because, at the end of the day, I quite like writing about ghosts and I do like a bit of Gothic Romance. I love Wuthering Heights and the idea of mad, passionate, other-worldly love affairs. I like a bit of mystery and I love writing historical stories. So, dear reader, I’m in a pickle. I’m pretty sure I could do a bit better now though.
Do I keep my ghost? Or do I go for realism? Or do I just consign it all to experience? Perhaps I should read it again, just to make sure…