Some writers are plotters, some are pantsers like me (by the seat of your pants, no outline or plan). I love having no idea what my characters are going to do, or say, before my fingers are typing the actual words. Each day I write is a new joy and an exciting journey.
But what happens when a character says something unexpected? Or someone you love writing about dies? I will admit I have cried copious tears while writing a scene where a beloved character takes their last breath. Often I’m alone, in the dark, as I tend to write into the early hours and beyond, sometimes. Nothing is lonelier than sobbing away when everyone else is fast asleep. And it hurts to say goodbye, raking up some very personal family memories for me, so it’s always traumatic.
At other times a character will say, or do something I didn’t expect. I usually think to myself ‘I should have seen that coming’ and I wonder where the story will go next. Sometimes I find myself shaking my head in disbelief and I will admit I did that quite a few times with Katie in A Little Sugar, A Lot of Love.
Katie is typical of many of us – her life is a juggling act centred around her work and her relationships. Setting up a bakery was her dream, but nothing comes easily and people she cares about are reliant upon her for that regular pay cheque. And then there is her partner, Steve. Life can be harsh at times and as a couple they have been through some tough times together. But a relationship won’t work if one person ends up giving more than the other, because eventually it becomes a drain.
And that’s where Katie surprised me, because for a while I simply believed she wasn’t aware that she was being pulled in all directions just to please the people around her. The added element to the surprise was that the person responsible for sparking this clarity was a customer, a stranger who lived in another part of the country and visited her shop only to pick up cakes for his grandmother. Who better to open up to than a stranger who has as many problems as you have?
The moments pass, seconds turning awkwardly into minutes as I struggle to compose myself.
“It’s complicated.” I sigh, dejectedly. My fingers toy nervously with the cup in front of me.
“In my experience, life in general is never straightforward. But then I seem to have this aptitude for messing up.” His laughter is comforting. It’s like sitting down with an old friend, but I have to remember that isn’t the case.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” I reply, hesitantly. Even if I wanted to, what could I possibly tell him that wouldn’t sound like I was being ungrateful? “Hey, all will probably sort itself out in the end, but I know how hard it can be when you bottle things up. I spend a lot of time trying to make sure Lily doesn’t sense my worries, or concerns. I’ve become an expert at running away from things, rather than confronting the problems head-on. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I only meant to pop in …”
Adam looks mortified and pushes his chair back, ready to stand up.
“No, really, it’s fine. Stay and finish your coffee. It will be a shame to throw those cupcakes away tomorrow. You’re quite right, though. I’ve backed myself into a corner and I don’t know what to do about it.” “Well, I can certainly empathise with that. But you know what I’ve come to realise? When you’re in a corner, there’s only one way out and that’s forwards.” His words strike at my heart, and for one moment what I want is to be held. Instead I smile as broadly as I can and push the plate towards him. “Help me out here, while I grab two more coffees.” I have absolutely no idea why I feel I can chat to someone who is one step removed from being a stranger …
Of course, as the pages flowed I began to understand that sharing your deepest fears and concerns with a stranger who does the same in return, is cathartic. And it’s safe. They don’t know you, or the people in your life. Sometimes all we need in life is a listening ear … and Katie reminded me of that!
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Katie has had her fair share of bad luck, but when she finally realises her dream of opening a bakery it seems things can only get better. But the reality of running a business hits Katie hard and whilst her partner, Steve, tries to help she can’t help but feel that the situation is driving them further apart. Could Katie be set to lose her relationship and her dream job? Then, one winter’s day, a man walks into her shop – and, in the space of that moment, the course of Katie’s life is changed. But nobody finds happiness in the blink of an eye. Sometimes it takes two Christmases, three birthdays and a whole lot of cake to get there …