As I travel on the emotional rollercoaster that is procrastinating so that I don’t have to be writing right now, as old ideas and feelings and connections bubble to the frothing surface of my totally-going-to-sit-down-and-write-now ocean, I have come to a very disturbing – and poetic conclusion – about one of the primary influences of my current work in progress, Tallulah.
A bit of backstory: the conception of Tallulah was a mix of things. I had a very isolated idea, more of an image really, of this melancholy young woman whose mother was a selkie. I had an existential-political gender crisis while on the bus a few days after deciding this idea would become a story, panicking over the fact that I had no way to authentically write a teenage girl – mythological seal-people are no problem, because you can make those up. You can’t make up teenage girls. They’re real. I was (and still am) very worried about my writing abilities in that regard.
And I also wanted to tear Twilight a new one – and all of YA paranormal romance, none of which I had actually read except for Twilight.
The normalised patriarchal, controlling, abusive, manipulative, paternal, absolutely uncritical misogyny; the racism; the absolute lack of plot; the fact that all the side-characters (Bella’s schoolmates) are a billion times more interesting than any of the main character (except for Jasper, Rosalie and CHARLIE) – I liked a few things about Twilight, and most of the things that I liked came from the film, not the books (or the sequel films), but those things were what stood out for me because they seemed to be the things that the fanbase were justifying and romanticising. It worried me, it infuriated me, and it aroused within me the urge to crusade against this lunacy, this erosion of society’s moral fiber.
Looking at my story with freshly-inspired eyes, remembering old ideas and why I liked them and getting excited about them all over again because I may now have the opportunity to work them back in, I have realised that so much of what I like about my story …
Is stuff that I like about Twilight.
Yes, I have discovered that TWILIGHT, a story that I have been bashing on for the past four or five years, turns out to be perhaps the single biggest influence on Tallulah that I have.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
Because there is stuff to like about Twilight. Again, mostly talking the first film here, directed by the brilliant and criminally disrespected (with regards to this franchise at least) Catherine Hardwicke.
It’s got those supporting characters in the students, who act like actual teeangers and bring some humanity to Bella’s world, and unlike in the book she seems to actually like these people, even if she’s not super-close with them; it’s got that wonderful visual tone that combines dread and wonder and just looks right; it’s got Bella’s relationship with Charlie (and the less-explored but still great relationship with her mother); it’s got the other Cullens; and it’s got Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who I will defend forever in their portrayal of two really messed-up people awkwardly falling in love. No, the problematic stuff is not gone, nor is it any less problematic; but it’s easier to stomach because it’s compensated for a bit by the much-needed injection of humanity into the story. The good things were made better, some of the bad stuff was removed completely (such as Bella completely disregarding and looking down upon her schoolmates), and the end result was just … I love it. I don’t think that’s too strong of a word. I love it.
And that’s the stuff that’s inspired Tallulah, taking what I saw either done badly or not well enough and wanting to do it properly, much as Tolkien read Macbeth and responded with the Ents. I love the dynamic between Bella and her schoolmates; I love her relationship with Charlie; I love the ridiculously awesome future in-laws; I love the feeling of discovery intermingled with self-esteem issues overlaid with this air of isolation and mystery intersecting with the everyday. And I do like the kindred spirits thing that she and Edward have – again, in the film specifically.
It’s really infuriating to see great ideas go to waste on a shitty story. I haven’t just copy-and-pasted these relationships into my story; they’ve all evolved into their own things and taken on their own identities, which is kind of inevitable and very much a relief. But the parallels are unmistakable, and I can’t believe it took me this long to realise that they’re not only there but integral parts of this story’s identity.
I’m actually quite happy about it.
I still detest Twilight in most regards. But having it as an influence is actually something I’m quite happy to admit upon reflection. Not simply because there is some good stuff about it, but because it’s something I’ve invested a lot of energy into and can now say, definitively, that it’s paid off in some substantial way. My only love sprung from my only hate and all that. Not only, in either case, but you get the idea. Like any negative experience, our experiences are always ours. If we can’t get anything out of them other than that they’re negative experiences, that’s fair enough. But on the occasions where something good comes out of it, that’s worth claiming. That’s worth being proud of.
Even if it is being directly influenced by Twilight.