Today I am delighted to hand my blog over to the utterly beautiful and very talented Cally Taylor, who discusses the use of theme in her work. I’m always surprised how, even without trying, certain themes turn up time and time again in my writing so this is certainly of interest to me. So, welcome Cally and do check out her brilliant short story collection, Secrets and Rain, which you can read about at the end of her post.
Are you theme faithful or a theme floozy?
I’ve been writing short stories since 2005, had my first novel ‘Heaven Can Wait’ published in 2009 and have two bookshelves FULL of ‘how to write’ books but, this summer, I learnt something about writing that came as a complete revelation.
I was at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Sheffield and was attending a talk by Julie Cohen on theme. I’d just completed a rough first draft of my fourth book but wasn’t 100% sure what the theme of the novel was, and hoped that Julie’s workshop would clarify it.
I wasn’t disappointed. The workshop was excellent and, after asking myself some probing questions, I realised that the theme of the book was ‘control’. Then, when Julie told us that the theme should be reinforced, not only in the main plot, but in the subplots too (and in any symbolism used), I got excited. I knew how I needed to rewrite my book to make it work.
But that wasn’t the revelation. The revelation came when Julie asked us to think about the books we’ve written in the past and whether the themes are different or the same. As she talked about her own favourite theme of ‘transformation’ it occurred to me that ALL of my books – whether chicklit or psychological suspense – have been on the theme of control.
In ‘Heaven Can Wait’ Lucy dies before her wedding and takes control of her fate by choosing to return to earth and complete a mission that will reunite her with her fiancé. In ‘Home for Christmas’ Beth takes control of her career and fights to stop the cinema where she works from being taken over by a chain. And in ‘The Accident’, the first of my psychological thrillers writing as CL Taylor (out next June, Avon HarperCollins) Susan takes control of her daughter’s fate by trying to find out what caused her to step in front of a bus.
But what about all the short stories I’ve written since I started sending them out to women’s magazines and competitions back in 2005? I must have written over 100 stories and flash fictions since then so surely the themes would be as disparate as the plots?
This summer I started to put together a collection of my published and prizewinning stories and chose the stories that meant the most to me, or that I was most proud of. It includes ‘Wish You Were Here’ (a story that came second in the Woman’s Own short story competition) about a woman who visits her dead son’s favourite places, ‘The Woman Who Became a Tree’ about a woman who joins an amateur dramatics society in search of love and ‘Penguins and Promises’ about a single woman who adopts a daughter. In my head the stories were all very different but it was only when my cover designer asked me if there was any theme that linked the stories I realised that there was. The over-arching theme of the whole collection is ‘hope after loss’. All of the stories feature some kind of loss but each of them end hopefully. Even the funnier stories in the collection follow the same theme.
It seems, whether I realise it or not, I’m ‘theme faithful’ – pretty much all my novels are about ‘control’ and all my short stories are about ‘hope after loss’. That doesn’t mean they’re all the same, far from it, but those themes are obviously important to my subconscious which is why they come out in my writing. And THAT was my revelation.
How about you? Are there themes you come back to again and again in your writing or, if you’re not a writer, in the kinds of books you like reading? They probably say a lot more about you than you think!