If you’ve ever looked back on your life and felt a nagging feeling of regret, you’re not alone. The desire to start over or to be given a second chance is a universal one, and it’s a concept that’s been touched on in innumerable creative works.
Author Juliet Madison had the idea for her own do-over novel Fast Forward (Escape Publishing, Harlequin Australia) when reading a book where a character acted beyond her years—almost as though she’d been thrown into the future.
“I thought it would be fun to write about a character ageing suddenly and jumping ahead to the future,” says Juliet. “What a great conflict: a character trapped in her worst nightmare of a future.”
Although Juliet was aware of many do-over books and films, such as Suddenly 30, Big and 17 Again, she realised that in each of these the character becomes an age that’s “desirable”.
“They’re youthful, energetic, successful, and attractive. I thought it would be great to do the opposite: take a beautiful young character and make her an age she doesn’t want to be, in a life she doesn’t want to be in.”
On regret and “what ifs”
Do-over novels can represent both a second chance and also a warning against making (or not making) certain decisions in life. At the heart of almost all of them, however, is regret.
“I’m sure there are many people who’d love the chance to correct a past mistake, or take an opportunity they may have missed. I’ve seen many people say things like ‘Oh, it’s too late now’, or ‘I wish’, or ‘In my dreams’, and not really believe they can change their life or follow a passion or opportunity they feel has slipped by.”
On the other hand, she’s also seen a few people take action to follow their dreams, and in so doing change the course of their lives.
“It really is never too late, you just have to want something bad enough and believe you can do it.”
As Juliet notes, it’s not necessarily the big decisions that lead to big changes. In many do-over films and novels it’s the smaller, more internal decisions that can transform things for a character. The proverbial butterfly flapping its wings comes to mind.
“A simple decision or change of plans has the potential to massively alter the course of someone’s life. I wanted to explore that theme in Fast Forward and take my character on journey of self discovery to experience first-hand the future she would have if she made a few changes in her life.”
Interestingly, although do-over novels deal with what might seem like weighty material at first glance, one of the common traits of these pieces is that they tend to be humorous. A comic take seems natural for this type of story, Juliet points out, because there’s often so much absurdity tied up in the idea.
“If a character ages suddenly overnight there’s bound to be a way to poke fun at the situation and create some funny moments.”
Although Juliet sought to balance the humour with some more serious issues in order to provide character depth and growth, overall her goal was to entertain with a fast, funny story that will entertain readers.
Do-over novels and life “turning points”
That said, she hopes that Fast Forward might also encourage her readers to consider their own life choices. Having worked in a health clinic, Juliet has had the opportunity to chat to many women about their lives, and has found that many harbour their own “what ifs”.
“Women’s roles have changed a lot over the past couple of decades. I’ve seen many women who say that if only things were different when they were younger maybe they could have followed a different path, or pursued a certain career instead of the expected ‘housewife’ role that was often encouraged years ago. So I hope this book might inspire some of the women in that sort of situation to think twice and rediscover what they love in life, and hopefully take a positive step forward.”
If you yourself are in that particular situation, it might be because you’ve reached a certain age. Juliet believes that there are particular “turning points” where people stop and reflect on their life choices.
For women, these tend to be around age 30 and 40, as these ages tend to be where women weigh their decisions about careers and children.
“There’s the whole ticking biological clock pressure, as well as the turning point that comes after having children. Becoming a parent changes your life in so many ways and you have to be responsible for someone else’s life, not just your own.”
Turning fifty is also considered a milestone for women, in part because it represents the end of the childbearing years and the entry into middle age. Because of this, Juliet thought that fifty was the perfect age to have her protagonist “fast forward” to.
In addition to bending time Fast Forward also does a bit of genre bending. Juliet describes it as a “romantic comedy”, but notes that some might also label it as chick lit or contemporary women’s fiction—and at a stretch even contemporary romance.
This multiplicity of labels is something that is becoming more of an option as digital publishing proliferates, and Juliet points out that with imprints like Harlequin’s Escape Publishing there are more opportunities for authors to experiment with different sub-genres of romance.
“Digital publishing can fill a smaller niche that might not be possible or financially feasible in print, so this is great news for both writers and readers!”
However, with things rapidly changing in the publishing industry, it’s essential not to make assumptions. Juliet almost didn’t submit to Harlequin because she wasn’t sure that her book was a good fit—a decision that would have been worthy of its own do-over novel.
“I wasn’t sure if my story would be romantic enough for a Harlequin imprint, but they also seemed open to different subgenres and cross-genres so I sent off an enquiry first to check. I didn’t want to waste their time if my story wasn’t suitable!”
Juliet was assured that so long as there was a strong romance element and a happy ending her book would be considered—and she had an offer of publication within three weeks. The promptness of the response was a wonderful thing, says Juliet, noting that it saved her the usual writer’s lot of constantly refreshing an email inbox.
Juliet has been surprised by the possibilities opened up by digital publishing, and has no regrets about the decision to forgo print.
“Although it’s nice to aspire to hold your very own book in your hands or see it in a bookstore, what matters is the story, regardless of the format. Getting the story out to as many readers as possible, as quickly as possible, that’s what digital publication has allowed me to do.”
She adds that it’s fantastic to have the backing of such a well-regarded brand as Harlequin, and that the company is doing so much to provide opportunities and exposure for local authors. One of the key benefits of working with Harlequin Escape is being able to write using an Australian voice, and Juliet plans to make the most of this.
“I have so much fun writing warm, funny fiction, so I’ll definitely continue to write more romantic comedies, each with a magical element. I love the endless possibilities this touch of magic provides, while still keeping with real life settings and relatable, or at least recognisable, characters.”
Juliet is presently working on a full-length romantic comedy novel called Haunted Housewives, about a bride-to-be who becomes haunted by the ghost of her fiance’s ex-girlfriend, as well as a novella involving a wish on a magic lamp going hilariously wrong.
“I also write deeper, more emotional romance and women’s fiction, still with a touch of humour but with more of a focus on the drama. Something I’m branching out into is Young Adult and New Adult, where I’m exploring a couple of ideas that are contemporary with a touch of the paranormal. I enjoy having a few different genres to keep my mind inspired.”
Buy Fast Forward via Escape Publishing.
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