19 August 2006

The best sequels are in your head

I am a long-term novel junkie. Started with Enid Blyton and her tales of the jolly japes of English children climbing trees, moved on to Noel Streatfeild's moving stories about orphaned girls finding their place in their world and Bobby discovering the truth about her father in The Railway Children. As a teenager, I read loads of disposable romance and books about teens struggling with unwanted pregnancies or being a runaway, as well as the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, My Brilliant Career, and some Dickens (although I've never really had any emotional connection with his characters). And it's then that I discovered two of the great literary loves of my live - Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.

Not very original I know, particularly in these post 1995 Pride & Prejudice Colin-Firth-as-Darcy-is-such-a-hottie days. But back in the late 70s, when I was discovering Austen and the Brontes, the way to do so was through reading the novels. Yes, reading them without knowing how the story was going to end or what actors the characters looked like. Sure, there were some very enjoyable 1970s & 1980s adaptations around (of which I am still very fond), but we didn't have the option of replaying our favourite bits of these great stories over and over like we do now. Although I've done that a lot in 1990s and the noughties...

Which brings me to the matter of sequels. Ever since I read Ballet Shoes as a ten year old, I've been inventing 'what happens next' in my head whenever I finish a book I've really loved. Whole scenarios involving my favourite characters. When I first read Jane Eyre at 14-ish, I did the same thing, although back then I didn't really feel comfortable about the whole Rochester the crippled blind man aspect of the ending. I did the same with Pride & Prejudice, although for some reason, I've never been successful with my 'what happens next' ponderings for Anne Elliot and the dashing Captain Wentworth ... and I love that novel so much, even after writing my thesis on it.

All very pleasant daydreaming, especially when you're stuck on public transport without your iPod (or Walkman should you find yourself on a train circa-1986).

Enter the internet and the rise of fanfiction. Being of the 'what happens next' persuasion, I've read a lot of fanfic, starting with P&P, and then moving on to Buffy (most of which I enjoyed a lot). Last year, I consumed quite a bit of North & South fanfic fluff. And I've decided to stop.

Fanfiction when it's good can be really really good and interesting. But most of it just makes me cross. Characters behave in ways they never would, according to the framework the writer created for them.

Which is why I've decided to keep with the best sequels around. The ones in my head. I've even created a whole 'what if' scenario if Jane and Rochester's first wedding hadn't been stopped (it all catches up to him in the end anyway - you can't beat karma). And I won't be sharing them with anyone by writing them down. Because the best sequels for any reader - should they be of the 'what happens next' persuasion - are the ones in their very own head.

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