I’m all for fan fiction. If you don’t know what fan fiction is, then here is a helpful link telling you what it is. If you’d like a more humorous explanation of what fan fiction is, then watch this Youtuber’s insights into how weird it can be (apologies about some of the language and double entendres – I found the majority of it funny. If you’re over 26, then you probably won’t understand why):
Namely, fan fiction is online adaptations of novels, films, manga, anime, Youtube videos and TV shows, written by people mostly in their teens or by adults who want to hone their creative writing skills. They can be read for free on the internet. The most popular fan fiction adaptations by far are of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series (yay!) and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga. (not so yay!) I used to write fan fiction when I was a teenager, but never put it up online, and (unless I heavily edit them) they will never see the light of day. I basically took the well known stories of Robin Hood, King Arthur and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, added a new character into the mix, and charted what happened. I remember sharing them with my sister to read, and her telling me that they were rubbish. And now, I agree that they could be a lot better.
But here’s why I think fan fiction should be encouraged. Firstly, it’s another step forward in the fascinating process of literary adaptations. And far from stealing ideas, if you trace the literacy ancestry of the Robin Hood, King Arthur or Troy tales, the versions we have now are all essentially fan fiction. What a wealth of material which can be read for enjoyment, adapted further into drama on stage or screen, or even adapted into modern day scenarios for a digital internet audience! Secondly, fan fiction encourages people to use their imaginations, to step outside what they’re used to and use their brains. Thirdly, it subtly encourages people to be more literate, in what they read and in how they write for an audience.
However, what irks me most about fan fiction is that a lot of it is poor. It has to be well written and original enough for it to really stand out. And for it to be published and for the author, literary agent and publishers to profit financially from it, it should be well written and original. I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m assuming that there must be something original about it for it to have been picked from hundreds of scripts, become a global success and to have a much anticipated film adaptation.
You may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last review. This is because I’ve just spent the last month settling into my first ever full time paid job. Most of the evenings in September have been spent curled up in front of the TV, watching my first ever episodes of Downton Abbey, a myriad of shows on E4 or copious amounts of BBC. But I have read two books as well.
Sisters of the East End by Helen Batten is an amalgamation of real-life stories from the sisters of St John the Divine. Batten creates a fictional character called Sister Catherine Mary, whose first person narrative we follow, from her unsuccessful schooldays, to midwifery, to taking her vows as a nun, and as she travels abroad for missionary work.
The Queen’s Promise by Lyn Andrews charts the life of the fragile Henry Percy, whose first (and only) love is Anne Boleyn, whom we all know is one of Henry VIII’s many wives. Andrews goes to great lengths to create a historically accurate fictional account (if that makes sense), and also adds a couple of fictional characters into the mix. Depending on your literary tastes, these texts could both potentially be fantastic.
But I felt let down. Yes, it’s not classic literature by any means. I don’t think they’re texts which will stand the test of time. And there are plenty of great books like that. But I loved reading the original Call the Midwife books in my last year of university. And I enjoyed the bodice ripping The Other Boleyn Girl back in 2008, when I was just starting Sixth Form and had to read it before starting my History A-Level course. And I wonder if these far more prominent books overshadow these later ones. In their shadows, Andrews’ and Batten’s texts on the same subject matter almost seem like properly published fan fiction.
I caught up with two of my course mates from university yesterday over tea and cake, having not seen them for a while. We all have gained English Literature degrees, but still love books and reading. One works in Waterstones, and the other is about to start work as a trainee librarian. I was telling them about this book blog, and about these two books, but told them that I do feel bad for being so critical about these two books. Creative writing is hard, if you want to get it right. You definitely don’t write your best work when you suddenly feel ‘inspired’ to just write a novel. It’s a painful process. You have to use your brain. You have to think about what you’re writing. But also not over-think it, otherwise the tone may come across as corny (inserting words from a thesaurus when you 1) don’t really know what they mean 2) never have heard them being used, can POTENTIALLY be a bad idea). And I have so much respect for published authors. The majority of them really persevered in finishing their texts, and then bombarding as many literary agents as possible to get a look in, facing rejection around every corner and not much hope. So, firstly, well done and I’m not one to tear them down. But I do have the right to an opinion, especially as someone who has studied texts at undergraduate level for the best part of three years, and who has an active interest in the publishing world.
So the good things about these books are that they’re both accessible. They were easy for me to pick up and read after a hard day’s work. They do transport you to other periods of time (East London in the 1950’s and Elizabethan England), so top points for escapism. Andrews’ sub plot about Henry Percy’s page boy working his way up the Tudor career ladder and finding true love and starting a family is sweet. It also diverts the reader from the main plot about Percy and Boleyn, where (to be perfectly frank) nothing much happens after the middle of the book. I suggest that the remaining abbeys in this country should buy Batten’s book and plug it wherever they can go. It’s very winsome in making a nun’s life appealing. If I hadn’t already considered seriously becoming a nun (believe me, I actually have), then I would have been quite swayed (besides the fact that this fictional character was a nun about fifty years ago, where everything was very different).
But in short, the texts lack originality, and true depth. I wish that Andrews’ book went more under the surface, so we could really feel and experience what Henry Percy was feeling, rather than just having to presume so from what he says. I wish that we had more insight into Anne Boleyn’s frame of mind, how she transitioned from a pleasant young woman into a scheming and devious woman, grasping for as much power as she could. I wish that Batten had introduced more secondary characters and not just made it all about one individual, just to break the flow and keep readers more engaged. I also wish Batten had made Sister Catherine Mary’s story more relevant to the very different world today. I recommend these books if you want something easy to escape into after a long day. But in order to find something which will stay with you, I heartily recommend looking elsewhere.