The first time I ever read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte I was thirteen years old. I devoured it whilst on holiday in Spain, and hardly saw the sun as a result. The next time I picked it up was when studying for G.C.S.E. English Literature at sixteen. My rebellious self had decided I wasn’t particularly enamoured with all of my teacher’s selections, so I obtained a copy of the syllabus, and was delighted to find Jane Eyre on the list. This wayward streak in me didn’t seem to do me any harm. I got an A.
You would have thought that by now I would have tired of reading the immortal lines, “Reader, I married him.” At the beginning of the final chapter, but it seems it still had the power to make my heart soar. We studied Jane Eyre once again as part of my B.A. And then, to top it all, I decided to write my undergraduate dissertation on The Struggle Between Passion and Duty in the Life and Novels of Charlotte Bronte, a copy of which still resides at the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
It is perhaps bizarre when wading through the countless articles, essays and books on this very same subject to think that back then no one had touched on this dichotomy in Charlotte’s life, but try as I might I had been unable at the time to find anything on the subject. Naturally, as a research project, this made it both exciting and frustrating. What I did instead was read what she wrote, read what was written about her, and devoured what she read, including a treasure of a book entitled The Doctrine of the Passions Explained and Improved to Which Is Added Evidences of the Christian Religion by Isaac Watts.
Suffice to say, as much as it was possible, and within my own limited academic capabilities, this was an original piece of work, and I have been chasing that same wave ever since.
Of course there is “nothing new under the sun”, and I doubt I was the absolute first person to come up with this idea back in 1994, but the important thing was that I wasn’t trying to copy anyone. Now as I sit and write my debut novel I’m applying those same principals. I admire other writers, and am hugely inspired by them, but I don’t write like them. It has been hugely important to me to find my own voice and my own story.
I recently spoke to a lady who works in the publishing industry and she gave me some very useful advice. She said that when I write my letter to agents and publishers I should never compare myself to someone else. I am never going to be the next Charlotte Bronte, Agatha Christie, or J.K. Rowling, but I might just be the next Susanna MacLeod.
Equally it is vitally important to be a trend-setter, rather than a trend follower. Agents and publishing companies were swamped with stories about magic after Harry Potter, and vampires after The Vampire Diaries. Equally right now everyone seems to be writing erotica, since the success of 50 Shades of Grey. But these trends have already been set, at least for our generation. What will come next I wonder? What new voice and new worlds are inside you and me that have yet to emerge? How are you unique and original?
Yes, it is possible to improve on something that someone else has already done, and do it better. But it is much more likely that your own, unique ideas will bear fruit in your work. Don’t be sheep and follow the crowd. Be a trailblazer and see where those uncharted paths might take you. I for one am enjoying the adventure!