The Inspiration behind ‘An Autumn Crush’ by Milly Johnson
Autumn isn’t a typical month to set a book in, I’ll grant you. I think most people associate it with things dying – which doesn’t make for a good romantic start. However, last autumn, whilst I was writing An Autumn Crush, I saw the season through very different eyes. How beautiful it is, how rich in colour, and how much goes on in autumn: bonfire night, Halloween, Harvest Festival… it’s a riot of activity and a feast for all the senses. And, I realised that it’s actually not a season about dying at all – it’s a time when the fruits are all picked, the flowers have all been admired, the trees and plants have done their duty and it’s nature’s time to wind down and sleep, ready to spring into bud again next year. What better message then for characters who feel that their big chances to be happy or successful are gone? Never to underestimate life’s abilities to grow the bud that will one day be a big fat blossom. Autumn is not the end, it is the rest before the restart. Why would it be so beautiful if not to inspire a message of hope?
In many ways Autumn Crush is my most poignant book. There is quite a tragic thread running through it which the season reflects perfectly. However, if I’m going to write a book which is intended to inspire a Kleenex to be applied to a reader’s eyes, the last thing I want is it to be wallowing in misery, which is why I also made sure there was a lot of fun in it too – you need to employ both the light and dark of tragedy and comedy to accentuate the other. The characters in this book are amongst my favourite ever: Guy who despairs at himself for being clumsy and always saying the wrong thing, Coco who thrives on drama, Steve who all bluff and bravado on the outside but inside just wants to be part of a family, Floz who is a gentle bud waiting for her time to bloom – and Juliet, who was the second lead character in the story, but is so bolshey that she wouldn’t take the ‘bridesmaid’ role (you’ll forgive me if I talk about my characters as if they are real – to me they are!) and became the real head female. She was marvellous to write – a big, feisty bird who you just wouldn’t mess around, but with a very soft heart and vulnerabilities – even if they are well hidden.
The man who has a massive crush on her, Steve, is an amateur wrestler – an untypical hero maybe, but the world of wrestling and I are fond friends. My dad’s pals – and my granddad – were wrestlers and I’ve always loved the sport. I’m friends with many of the wrestling fraternity and go to the twice-yearly reunions. I’m great mates with the legend who is Klondyke Kate who out of the ring is the sweetest, gentlest lady you could imagine – (see Juliet). In the ring – well that’s a different story. I’m actually in the process of writing a factual book about Yorkshire wrestlers. The stories I’ve collected have been very funny and I can’t use most of them because I’d be arrested under the indecency act.
Juliet is looking for love but a strong woman needs a stronger man, something she finds distinctly thin on the ground so she resorts to internet dating. Ten years ago it was quite a new and slightly dodgy place to try and hook up with a new partner, but these days most single people I know have tried it. Me included. I’ve howled with laughter at some of the stories I’ve collected about online dating, and been very moved by the cruelty that can occur when honesty isn’t employed. I never had as much luck as five of my friends who are now happily married to men they met on dating sites. I landed a policeman who I dated for over a year who was secretly involved with a much older woman for the whole time. Ouch. Myself and my savings had a very lucky escape there. I did meet the most perfect man in the world on it too who ticked every box but the one which asked ‘do you fancy him?’ And the truth was that I didn’t. Oh how much simpler life would be if we could just fall in love with the people who fall in love with us. Which is another theme of the book: that Love is a minx and will NOT be mastered by anyone. That’s why our hearts often stick to an unimpressed steady rhythm for the nice guys in life yet boom for the most unsuitable people – like the ‘disappearing lover’ who is a feature in the book. Things are going great then suddenly your calls aren’t returned and you are faced with a wall of silence and no answer to the puzzle. These lovers have a habit of turning up just when, ‘you’ve got yourself together.’ And annoyingly your damn heart betrays you and starts thudding with excitement. Love, eh? An imp if ever there was one. I’ve loved writing about the darker sides of love in this book. It’s my most passionate book to date. I needed a cold shower after writing some of the chapters.
Love can behave sweetly and conventionally, or wild without reason. It can love can turn enemies into passionate lovers and bring people together against all the odds. Love can be fickle and cruel, obsessive and fabulous – but it’s always powerful – and would life ever be worth living without its presence?