It took a long time for me to be okay with reading romance (trashy genre fiction with swooning water-coloured heroines on the cover). Then I went into defiance – head up when I checked the books out at a library, daring the librarian to judge me for it. Then I went into campaigning for the rest of my world to understand what a treasure trove my chosen genre really is.
Now I find myself at the beginning all over again…with fan fiction.
Even though I’ve struggled both internally and externally against the perceptions attached to a genre, fan fiction feels shameful. If romance is at the bottom of the genre pile in people’s estimation (and it is), then fan fiction sits in some murky water below it.
Cat gave me a Harry Potter fanfic to read, because it had a great example of the awful I love you that I was talking about all the time. So it wasn’t her favourite example of fanfic – she rated it 6 out of 10 – but that wasn’t the point.
The unintended side-effect was that I LOVED IT.
You may remember that I’ve been going through a distressing case of identity-crisis-inducing reading ennui. For the last couple of days I simply haven’t been able to stop reading.
I’m trying to pinpoint what is so great about it, but as I’m such a newcomer to the genre it’s all a bit hazy. Initially I really couldn’t understand why Harry Potter of all the books would generate more fan fiction than any other story out there (aside, of course, from the obvious fact of it being the most popular series of all time). It seemed to me like such a childish (and that’s not meant to be derogatory) story to have such an intense following.
But the whole point of Harry Potter fanfic, as I’ve discovered, is to invert the original story in ways that are unavoidably fascinating.
Maybe every story is made up of itself and, unspoken, its inverse. Going into the world that shadows it – that exists because it isn’t – feels somehow complex. Unlike the story that made it, it can’t exist on its own. It has to be made of facets, and possibility. It also seems to contain all the unanswerable yearning of the original which, as you may be able to guess, is irresistible to me.
There’s one author I’m particularly enjoying, and her Draco Malfoy is the most charming, charismatic, awful, insecure, amazing creation. I’ve often felt inadequate when writers talk about the books they re-read for inspiration. But this – when I am struggling to imbue a character with that something that makes them light on fire, I will re-read this.
Then there’s my new Kindle, which changes everything. It means I don’t have to approach these stories as Deemed Worthy of Publication and find them missing, or as a guilty pleasure I’ll kill my eyes with by reading off the computer.
It doesn’t have to be polished and thoughtful and structured and perfect. It can be an exciting idea, an adrenaline rush of potential, an over-the-top exploration of all the best bits with none of the rest.
And who says fiction can’t be like that?