GUEST POST: REALITY #WRITING

I’d like to thank Ber Carroll for this guest post about how reality TV influences her writing. Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, County Cork, and moved to Australia in 1995. Berʼs novels have been published in five countries, including Ireland. Her first novel, Executive Affair (Hodder), was inspired by her initial impressions of Sydney, and her exciting, dynamic work environment at the time. Incidentally, Ber is short for Bernadette, but please donʼt call her Bernadette: this is what her mother calls her when she is in trouble for something. Ber now lives in Sydneyʼs northern beaches with her husband and two children. You can follow Ber on Facebook or visit her website for more info.

I have a secret addiction that happens to be wonderful for my writing. My addiction gives me endless ideas and writing material, lends a note of authenticity to issues that I might otherwise struggle to adequately describe, and allows me into the homes and lives of so many different people, in so many different places, that I can’t help but be well informed and often quite inspired.

After ten pm, when my children are finally in bed (and often my husband too) you’ll find me settling down on the couch and flicking through the channels on the TV. Now you’re probably thinking I’m some kind of television addict. I’m not. True fact: I was the last person on the planet to watch Breaking Bad (and I still haven’t got around to Game of Thrones). But there is one kind of TV that draws me in, no matter how busy my day has been, and even though I’m often quite exhausted and should be doing the exact same thing as the rest of my family: sleeping. It’s not dramas or legal shows or reruns of comedies that are keeping me up at night: it’s reality TV.

In any one week I watch shows about all kinds of addictions and mental illness. I watch shows about mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children who are lost or estranged from their families. I get to look into households other than my own, often households with extreme views on religion, routine, lifestyle, control, cleanliness, parenting, and it’s rare that I don’t learn something that applies to my own life. Sitting on my couch, late at night, I can be as easily found laughing as crying, my mouth agape in astonishment, or in horror.

What’s odd is that the television programs I find so compelling are the same ones so often disparaged by critics and the media, deemed as lacking in imagination and targeted at the masses. But let’s be clear: there are different kinds of reality TV. What I’m seeking is natural, thought-provoking, unscripted situations. As soon as I get the sense that the show is scripted (as some so clearly are), or overly staged, or that the aim is to humiliate rather than educate or help, then I switch channels. I’m not remotely interested in anything that involves celebrities or fake dilemmas. I want to see real people, real homes, real problems. And I want to write about them. I want to write about the heartbreak, the despair, the hope, the reunions, the raw ambition, crushing disappointments and success against all the odds.

Police shows, hospital emergency rooms, even property shows (Why is that person buying/selling/moving on? The pernickety/hard-to-please characters. The ones who won’t ever commit. The couples who seem perfect for each other, then the seemingly ill-matched ones). I think these shows will become an important part of history, a realistic view into life at this point in time, our struggles and triumphs, what keeps us awake at night, and what makes us happy. I’m so grateful to the networks who produce them, for the tact and genuine caring shown by most of the presenters, and for the breath-taking honesty of those who are brave enough to take part. I’m grateful because they often help me put my own petty gripes into perspective. And I’m grateful because they’ve opened my eyes on so many issues, allowed me to listen to their voices, be privy to their most innermost thoughts, and a witness to their reactions when they are hurt, under threat, angry, surprised, told that they are loved/missed/understood.

The reality is that these shows, and my addiction to them, have made me a better mother, wife, family member, friend, as well as a more empathetic and knowledgeable writer.

Ber Carroll’s latest novel, Once Lost, is out now and available on Booktopia here. My review will be published later today.