It’s been a week for learning from the soaps. Hot on the heels of the clunky plotting that surrounded Kylie’s death on Corrie, came another death. This time it was on EastEnders. After a bit of drama and a case of mistaken identity, we discovered that the person we’d thought was Ben Mitchell was actually his boyfriend, Paul Coker. And Paul had been beaten up and he’d died.
So far, so soapy. But last night’s episode was where my writer spidey senses switched on and I started learning some lessons. Because the understated way the Enders writers showed grief was a brilliant, brilliant thing to watch.
There was no shouting. There was no wailing or screaming. There was just raw emotion. The saddest bit of the whole episode was when Les, Paul’s granddad, poured away a cup of tea. He’d made it for his grandson first thing in the morning, when he thought Paul was just being lazy and staying in bed. Much, much later, when he and his wife Pam had been to identify Paul’s body in the mortuary and come back home to an empty house, Les picked up the tea and poured it down the sink. Heart. Broken.
Nancy, the heroine of my next novel, has lost her mum. I’ve just been editing the part of the story when she talks about her mother and I’ve been struggling with it. But now I’m planning on going back and adding those little things. Nancy’s got no one who cares that she’s on her way home, she has to set the table for one less person, there’s no one to share a piece of good news with…tiny signs of someone being gone, like Les’s extra cuppa.
The funny thing is, we shouldn’t really care about Paul Coker. He’s only been in Enders for five minutes. He’s never really had a proper storyline. He was – occasionally – a bit annoying. But we care that he’s dead, because we care about the people who cared about him. And that’s another lesson. We followed Ben’s journey to being out and proud and happy with Paul, so goodness me we care now he’s grieving. We all love Les and Pam, and their agony as they cope with losing their grandson is going to be tough to watch in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that my readers won’t care that Nancy’s mum’s been dead for five years by the time they meet my heroine, but that they’ll feel her loss because Nancy feels it.
I watch A LOT of soaps, and I love them, but I’m very quick to whinge when they get stuff wrong. This time, though, I’ve got nothing but praise for last night’s Enders. Praise and lots of notes.