Why Happily Ever Afters Matter
I wouldn't categorise myself as a traditional lesbian romance author. My characters are too contrary for that. However, readers will find one ingredient of traditional romance in my novels - the happy ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN).
Why, when I'm determined to tell complex stories about damaged women who make bad decisions, is this a staple of my work?
It probably comes down to two factors: I always hold out hope of happy endings and I hate when couples are ripped apart for no good reason. And, yes, those two things are connected.
In TV and film, the trope of killing LGBT characters is so well documented that it has a name - Bury Your Gays. I didn't recognise this for what it was when I was younger, even as I watched many of the lesbian characters in the soaps and shows I loved either die or be hopelessly maimed. Perhaps I was immune to it for a little while because one of my first big loves was Bad Girls, and Helen got her happy ending with Nikki.
But you pay attention for long enough and you see the dead lesbians scattered everywhere. For anyone wondering if they're going to spend their life alone, the representation is often starkly depressing. Yes, there are exceptions, but they don't stick in my mind as fiercely. I tend not to remember Olivia and Natalia in Guiding Light but my heart dwells on Caroline and Kate from Last Tango in Halifax, Bernie and Serena from Holby City or Clarke and Lexa from The 100.
Now, the problem with seeing these trends as a WLW author is that you don't want to replicate them. For someone like me who wants to write truthful stories about realistic women, this means balancing a coin on the tip of my thumb. I want to tell honest, complicated stories but the two leading ladies need to be standing at the end of it. More than that, they need to be together.
Because it's one thing for both women to be alive; it's another thing entirely for them to still be together. And Kit Eyre, author and reader, still needs to see that. You see, I might be married to a wonderful woman and be happier than I could ever imagine being, but I still need to remind myself that's going to last. One thing about seeing so few representations of happy endings on TV is there's always a voice at the back of your mind, a terrified voice asking terrifying questions about loneliness. If you look deep into my characters, that voice echoes loudly through their words and actions too.
Am I saying I will never kill a lead character or their love interest? I don't know.
I've toyed with unhappy endings to a few of my draft novels and I'm not happy with them. One has already been rewritten more positively and the other is heading that way. Whether those versions will stick or not, I'm not sure, but I knew enough about my own peculiarities as an author to realise I needed to try the other path before settling on a route.
My characters come first. It just so happens I believe in their right to a happy ending as much as I believe I have the right to one myself.