Monday, 25 February 2008

Are you all right? You're looking a bit pale...

Cough in real life, and your friends' only reaction will be to back away from your germs. Cough in a novel or on screen, and it's both good and bad news; your friends will notice and show concern, but unfortunately it means you are going down with something serious, maybe fatal.

If you are going to be ill, my advice is to see if you can get one of those fictional illnesses; they're so much better than real life ones. They come in various forms;

1. TERMINAL ILLNESS Now here, fiction is way ahead. No physical decline, or feeling wretched, or looking terrible. No, you will be gorgeous till the end. If you look a tad frail it won't stop you doing interesting stuff like making love with the hero. Coughing delicately into a handkerchief is about the only symptom that will trouble you.

A final plus; a fictional doctor will be able to predict, to the day, when you will conk out. In the film The First of the Few, the doctor told Leslie Howard that if he rested completely he'd be right as rain; if he carried on overworking, he'd be dead in six months. Now that's the sort of certainty a patient needs.

2. INSANITY This is only ever bad news if you are a baddie; if you are a sympathetic character, you can go on much as normal with everyone smiling indulgently at your foibles. See Mr Dick in David Copperfield.

3. SMALLPOX Not a disease to tangle with; but Esther Summerson in Bleak House had a nasty bout of it, and when she recovered her face was pock-marked badly enough to scare off a tiresome suitor. But a year or two later, bingo! She's as beautiful as before.

4. LOSS OF THE USE OF YOUR LEGS Surprisingly common in novels, this. Both Pollyanna and Katie in What Katie Did suffered from it. But, and here's the good news for a heroine, it's ten pounds to a penny that with a little research, a specialist, experimental doctor can be found who will make you as good as new! Beat that, real life.

(And for the odd character who fails to track down a leg expert, like Madame Neroni in Barchester Towers, there is the comfort of being as beautiful and charming as you ever were, possibly more).

Real life versus fiction? No contest.


  1. Years ago, MAD magazine did a satire on the movie Love Story. In it Ali MacGraw was dying of a disease that made her more radiant with each passing day. By the end, she was unimaginably beautiful on her deathbed.

  2. I've managed to avoid watching Love Story but somehow feel as though I've sat through every gloopy minute.

    Definitely not my sort of story.

  3. Brilliant, Lexi! Thanks for that! MAde me chuckle.


  4. I have flu, but thankfully I'm not a character in a novel or a film or I'd be guaranteed to die soon...


  5. Oh poor you, Steven. Flu is very nasty.

    Doug Jackson has just had it - maybe there's a deviant flu virus that only attacks writers in Scotland.

    Possibly generated in a lab and disseminated by a bitter unpublished Scottish writer, determined to punish all local talent...