I believe there are two types of fiction readers. Those that prefer gritty, realistic characters and/or situations, and those that prefer made up fantasies.
Stephen King is at one end of the spectrum here. King’s characters – even his supernatural ones – are very, very human. They are ordinary human beings put in extraordinary situations. Even his seminal fantasy work of The Dark Tower full of made up names and things like Billy Bumblers and Lobstrosities—and the Dark Tower itself. While all hinge upon a made up world, the four human members of Roland’s ka-tet are all very human, very relatable. In each of the characters, we can see ourselves, and Roland’s mission to find The Dark Tower mirror our own personal missions in life. (And anyone who can not relate to the heartbreak in Roland’s first love in Susan Delgado has a heart of stone.)
The point is, even in King’s most fantastical work, his life, situations, and people are real. Gritty. And then you have books like Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which has no supernatural things at all and is even more real!
And then there is the opposite side of the spectrum: the wholly made up fantasy. I will ascribe JK Rowling as the modern doyen of the genre. The Harry Potter series is full of made up things like giants and house-elves and and and… Not to mention the people themselves who are neatly split up between those who are wizards and witches and those who are muggles. Look, I have my issues with the character of Harry himself, but no one can deny the series is a cracking read, and sometimes darker than even King himself can come up with. Even a cynical old bastard like me has the seven-book series on my shelf and I’ll tell you I loved it!
Then there is George RR Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ – I’ve not read a word of the books, but as for the TV series: Hi, my name is Gerry and I’m an addict. (For the young folks, ever wondered he decided to put ‘RR’ in his name and not just go ‘George Martin’? Well, maybe it’s an homage to Tolkien, but it’s to stop is middle-aged-and-older folks from confusing him with this guy…)
Personally I prefer the real life thing. I know many who do not. I have read many a defence of the fantastical characters of 50 Shades of Grey where the hot, handsome, single, young, kinky billionaire that can make the hot, beautiful, single, virginal, innocent girl orgasm by just blowing on her nipple. Who believes this shit? Apparently, no one, but the fans don’t care: we’re accosted by real life every day where we have to deal with middle-aged working-class men with dad bods and bald spots who can force an erection once a month; allow us a bit of fantasy, will ya? And you know what, I can’t argue that. I can’t argue that at all.
But I cannot walk that road myself.
Discovering Leigh is frighteningly real. The characters are fictional, but I can tell you, that the emotions, events, trails and victories in the lives of Leigh and Mikey are not fantastical. I have purposefully made them as characters very ordinary and average. (I often joke and say the only piece of fantasy in this whole book is that Leigh is a successful photographer, something that does not exist in real life. The difference between a photographer and a KFC Bucket is that the KFC Bucket can feed a family of four).
This love for the stunningly average was born when I was a teenager. There was a TV ad for a chain store jeweller. This rough-around-the-edges average Joe buys this beautiful diamond ring for his decidedly un-pretty girlfriend, and they fall in gorgeous romance. It was the very antithesis of the Michelle Pfeiffer – Rutger Hauer and Tom Cruise – Kelly McGillis romances of Ladyhawke and Top Gun which I adored as a teen. I found this TV ad simply beautiful. For a guy with an ugly mug like me, it gave me hope. It lifted my spirits and made me feel good. It told me there are beautiful things to be seen and happiness to be found in a world that treats us ordinary folk awfully.
In my earliest post-adolescent writings, my people were real. I never had ‘the beautiful’ or ‘the handsome’ lead character. My people were ordinary. Ordinary people living ordinary lives. Until something happens…
(A digression: I love it when those lines between the fantasy and the reality blurs – but I’ve rarely found it in literature, but I have seen it in photography and art, particularly in the works of Jack Vettriano. I know he is the modern “King of Kitsch”, but that man paints lyrics into his paintings that makes one wonder if it is a stretch of the deepest imagination, or the ultimate representation of gritty reality.)
My male lead, Mikey is a decidedly average guy in his mid 20s. He works in an office. He is awkward looking. He is just a stereotypical IT geek with a spreading waistline and a receding hairline. He is not the hot young billionaire. My business partner suggested that in the movie he should be played by Jesse Eisenberg, except Jesse has too much hair and is not quite awkward looking enough.
Leigh is not just decidedly average. She is, politically correctly speaking, ‘homely’. Okay, she is an ugly girl. She is small. A redhead. She is an art-school drop-out who smokes too much. She even wears braces (with headgear), for crying out loud. There is nothing in her that the ordinary hot-blooded straight male would find attractive. (Who would play her in the movie? I have no idea, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a redheaded actress who is not drop dead gorgeous? However, Elanor Tomlinson could be an interesting choice. Sophie Turner was a favourite once, but she is just too damn tall and pretty to play Leigh.)
Ah, the fantasies of Hollywood… but I digress.
Yet, the chemistry between Mikey and Leigh just works. Leigh is beautiful to Mikey. Mikey is the ultimate man to Leigh and screw the other 7 billion people on the planet if they don’t agree.
So I challenge myself. In the sequel to Discovering Leigh, Defining Giulia, what do I do? The very thing I despise. I bring in the fantastical world classic: Giulia is not small, short, ugly, fat, ordinary. Nope, Giulia is young, she is tall, she is not just beautiful, but gorgeous and unique, and on top of that, clever. She is the creature that only exists in the pages of fashion magazines and bad romance novels. Think a young Charlize Theron circa Devil’s Advocate, but without the horrendous remnant-of-the-‘80s hairdo.
Why? Because Giulia is real. Too real. Her looks and her talents are 100% based upon a dear friend of mine. Sometimes, “the beautiful young…” is not a one-dimensional trope. Sometimes, reality and fantasy come together in something amazing.
Header image: Dr. Katya. Sorry guys, she’s taken.