Author August: Manuela Salvi – Why I believe in happy (-ish) endings

 

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

“…in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I supposed that is why books excited us so much.” Graham Greene (The Lost Childhood, 1951) 
Manuela-SalviWhen I write a story for young readers, I always look back at myself at their age. I had glorious ideas regarding my future, and while my parents were more than supportive, other adults around me often weren’t. Being a writer is for rich people. Don’t waste your time on illusions. With no connections, you have zero hopes. Who the hell do you think you are? And so on, often told as patronising jokes. I didn’t stop believing, though. Why? Because of the stories I was reading in books and watching on screen.

I grew up between the 80s and the 90s: American Dream and rags-to-riches stories fed my imagination like fertilizer on wild weeds. It sounds silly now, but when I was 13 and Rocky Balboa first told me from the screen: “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” I felt SO invincible that I’ve never forgotten that moment. I wanted to be Rocky and never give up! I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking when adults tried to grind me down! I wanted to be as resilient as the Little Princess, as brave as Bastian from The Neverending Story, as much in love as Baby in Dirty Dancing! All those characters, and the many more that crowded my mind over the years, were telling me the same thing (in Sylvester Stallone’s voice): GO OUT AND GET WHAT YOU’RE WORTH.

Girl Detatched-07The fact is – and I understood this early on – that every single person will write at least one story while on Earth: the story of their own life. Like writers, people constantly choose their beginnings, reactions to pleasant or unpleasant turning points, behaviours when facing a climax. You are choosing right now, something is happening in your life at this very moment. Perhaps you’re feeling lost, perhaps you’d rather put a stop to all those unsolicited plot twists.

But in the end, will you be the hero of your own story?

Will you be brave enough to do the right thing at the right moment?

Will you fight your “fatal flaw” and become a better person?

As a writer for young readers I feel endings as a huge responsibility, because they affected me so deeply. It was the endings of other stories that made me want to be the hero of my own. Adult books can indulge on overwhelming dead-end failures – the worse the better – but in my opinion, books for young readers should deal with great challenges, amazing changes, spectacular feelings – even in the worst scenarios. Therefore my characters are extremely fragile but still ready to stand up for the right cause, and that’s exactly how I see young people, or how I’d like them to be.

Mind you, I don’t believe in fairy tales: life is hard and godmothers are in short supply, I don’t deny that. But if you want the harsh reality, you can watch the news. Both as a reader and a writer, I see fiction as a liberating space for a way out to be found. Sometimes the way out can be just a new question, something you had never wondered about before. If there’s absolutely NO solution, the way out can be a protagonist who doesn’t betray himself and stays human (see Kevin Brooks’s Bunker Diary).

Stories made me decide that I couldn’t let other people shape my life story, because I was its writer and mine was the responsibility for its ending. Stories make me want to share this with my readers now, in the hope that they will ALL be heroes, for a while or forever, on a small or a big scale. Just a little moment of heroism can make the difference (see Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon). So what I want to say to my readers is: GO OUT AND GET WHAT YOU’RE WORTH. Of course, never ever forgetting what Mickey says before the match: You’re gonna eat lightning and you’re gonna crap thunder! My favourite piece of advice ever.

My personal thanks to Manuela for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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