I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fandom. There’s a musical playing at The Playground Theatre at the moment, called Fanatical: The Sci-Fi Convention Musical, which I have already seen twice and will be seeing twice more before it closes on Saturday. It’s about a fan convention for a fictional sci-fi TV show, and it celebrates all aspects of being a fan, not least the creation of fan art and fanfiction.
The song I relate to most is “Hey, Look What I Made”, in which one of the fans says her dad calls her fanart “talent gone to waste”, which is a reaction I have also had towards my fanfiction. But I very firmly believe that fanfiction got me where I am today - nearly twenty original short stories published, and a novel out for consideration by several small presses.
I went to my first fan convention in January 2001, at a time in my life when I had lost all confidence in my writing and in myself. I suffered from mild depression throughout my university years, during which time I was in a relationship with another writer. I felt as if his talent was so far above mine as to swallow mine whole, and I stopped writing altogether towards the end of our time together. I should say that this was not in any way his fault, and he would be horrified to learn of it, but that’s what was going on in my head at the time.
Whilst queueing to get into the convention, I inserted myself into the conversation of the two people in front of me, and a wonderful new phase of my life began. They were both fanfiction writers, and they introduced me to a whole online world I had previously been unaware of. Here, I discovered like-minded fans of all the films and shows and books I myself loved, who were creating new stories within those worlds for others to enjoy.
Fanfiction is often derided, and it’s true that there is a lot of awful stuff out there. But isn’t that true of most things, including published original fiction? There’s also a tremendous amount of truly amazing fanfiction, if you know where to look for it, and even the dreadful stuff serves an important purpose.
Fanfiction gives the writer an established setting and familiar characters in which to explore their deepest and most outrageous desires, to experiment with their writing, and to gain much-coveted feedback from readers. I am certain there are many more traditionally published authors who cut their teeth on fanfiction than would be prepared to admit it.
Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey may have produced a somewhat warped view of fanfiction in the mainstream consciousness - but a more recent TV show, Dickensian, shows fanfiction at its very best, in my opinion. A mash-up of Dickens’ most colourful characters proved truly delightful, and I’ve used it many times since as an example of how fanfiction can be both wildly inventive and simultaneously respectful to its source material.
For me, fanfiction provided a safe space in which to find my creativity again, where I could post my stories and get instant feedback from a friendly and supportive group of readers. It gave me ten years of writing practice before I started trying to write my own stuff, and I know my writing benefited hugely from that. Even though I am primarily working on original projects now, there are two fanfiction events I still take part in, and thoroughly enjoy, every year, and I don’t intend to give them up any time soon.
I completely understand the attitude of writers who do not wish their creations to be warped out of all recognition in the hands of depraved fanfiction amateurs. However, it seems clear there is little they can do to stop it, and I think they might be better served by embracing the phenomenon than by attempting to quash it. I, for one, would count it one of my highest achievements as a writer for there to be fanfiction based on my original work posted on the internet. This is because fanfiction comes from a place of passion and enthusiasm, and is a mark of great love for the work it’s based upon. I can only dream of having fans dedicated enough to spend their time dreaming up new scenarios for my characters, and new stories for my worlds.
I will never forget the joy and confidence fanfiction has inspired in me, and I will never be ashamed to admit that I am a fanfiction writer.