When we are at school – primary school – we are allowed to start stories with ‘once upon a time’ and to end them with ‘…and they lived happily ever after’. As we progress through life we are told not to use these phrases, that stories should not be so obvious, so formulaic. Then why do we ever learn them?
I’ll tell you why. It’s not that we need to forget these phrases entirely. No. I use them, as a novelist, to remind me that I am taking my characters on a journey. The once upon a time indicates a situation, the context our heroine finds herself. The lived happily ever after is what she is aiming for. Only, is there such a thing as the happily ever after and, if there isn’t, is that why we are taught to abandon these cliche phrases? I mean, as humans, we are always part of a story, aren’t we?
I think it indicates that me, you, and my heroine are striving for something bigger, something beautiful and don’t we all do that? Don’t we all secretly, or not so secretly, harbor fantasies of alternative lives we might one day live? Even if they are rose-tinted and include Hollywood style pools and white villas (oh no, wait, that may just be me). I mean, we’ve all been there, caught daydreaming during the weekend-supermarket-mission, I mean, sorry, um, family shopping trip.
In my novel, The Little Cottage in the Country, Anna goes on a journey to better her life. Anna Compton thought that moving to Trumpsey Blazey, leaving London and her past firmly behind her was the perfect solution. Goodbye life of thirty-something, crazed single mum of two, hello country glamour queen, domestic goddess and yummy-mummy extraordinaire.
The thing is we daydream different situations, conjure up different worlds because we’ve been given the best gift possible: imagination. So whilst my ideas for my stories stem from the world around me – because there really is romance and comedy in the every day – I then take that, those brilliant, very real experiences and I start to daydream.
What does my heroine Anna Compton (The Little Cottage in the Country) really want? She wants love. We all want love but let’s daydream a life less ordinary. Well, then perhaps she meets the Lord of the Manor and as they get to know each other, and as she tries to resist his charms, romance and comedy ooze out of the most strange of places: a school bake sale, a pork pie race? So she is just an ordinary woman, like me, who gets caught up in a beautiful world and chases that happily ever after.
Does she find it? That would be telling. But whether she does, or not, she’ll keep chasing, just as I will. Just as we all will; using the glorious gift of imagination.