I agree with… Celia Brayfield

Celia Brayfield “There’s a face I know too well, the face of a debutante writer who doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone, a queasy little moue that means they want their protagonist to have an inoffensive life. No conflict, no anger, no unpleasantness, and definitely no passion, no death and no war. ‘My character would never do that,’ she says, not realising that fiction without its darker side is like a Miss Marple mystery without its murder, all tinkly tea-cups and nice chats with the village postmistress.”
[excerpt from MsLexia magazine, Dec/Jan/Feb 2013/2014 issue] 

Celia Brayfield

[photo: curtisbrown.co.uk]

I find her words quite depressing, that new writers now are not daring to take risks. When I think back now to my fellow students on the numerous writing courses I have attended, there were some who were cautious but thankfully there were more of us who pushed it perhaps too much.

Brayfield continues: “It’s not only creative writing students who wince when they’re invited to create some conflict. The editor of my first novel, set partly in Malaysia during World War II, wanted me to cut ‘the war stuff’ – without which there was no plot. My agent wanted me to cut the sex and drugs. Other writers I know have complained about editors who object to heroines who chain-smoke or stand up for themselves, or who insisted on turning a spooky tale of Elizabethan witchcraft into a heaving bodice-ripper.”

I am not advocating violence, or downright unpleasant characters, but I do think we should be able to write about [and read about] real women. Everyone is a mixture of light and dark, the balance between the two is what makes our personality and that is where the fertile ground for novelists lies. Otherwise, all that lies ahead of you is a book with a pastel pink cover and an illustration of cupcakes.

Celia Brayfield

‘Writing Historical Fiction’ by Celia Brayfield & Duncan Sprott [UK: Bloomsbury]

If you agree with Celia Brayfield, perhaps you will agree with:-
Lynn Barber don’t make up your mind too early what it’s about
Michèle ForbesI was born there, grew up there, and I felt I had to reconnect with the place
Roddy Doylesnappy dialogue is the best way to keep the momentum going

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
I agree with Celia Brayfield: fiction needs a dark side http://wp.me/p5gEM4-Of via @SandraDanby


  1. This really resonated with me, as I often write darker fiction and have been told by well-meaning readers to write “more cheerful stories.”

    • Me too, I was told in the early days of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ that Rose was unsympathetic and ‘wouldn’t react like that’. 🙂 SD

  2. Taking risks is hard. As we usually do not welcome change this is quite comprehensible. Something we need to work on.
    I love that last paragraph. This is a real gem.

  3. In tune with this post.
    I’m about to fledge A Relative Invasion, WW2 historical novel about boyhood rivalry (mirroring the emotions w/i Europe on a ‘grander’ scale). The degrees of nastiness are mild yet resonate with readers. Small actions can capture emotional attention where extreme ones do not, by virtue of being so removed from most people’s experience.