I was at a really good book club the other night…it started with a bang when I was handed a cocktail called a Vesper, which was invented by Ian Fleming for 007 to consume, and had the effect of making any sudden movement unadvisable. It also generated a very comfortable free flowing discussion about mothers (they all had fascinating mothers, many of whom did war work) the books, the characters, and whether we wanted more Vespers or should move on to wine. (There’s a reason this book club has lasted three decades…)
Here is a question asked that night that has made me think: “Is it hard to write real incidents into your stories?” My initial response was ‘it’s hard to keep them out.’ Certainly your brain feeds you a steady stream of all you know and have experienced. But the incidents don’t go in as-is. I take them out of bits and pieces of my life, or what I know of the lives of my parents and grandparents from snippets of stories, and then are kneaded and flopped around to fit the circumstances of the book.
My favourite example happened when Lane was about to go over edge of a cliff on a snowy night in a car being driven by a mad kidnapper, (book two of the Lane Winslow mysteries, Death In A Darkening Mist) and I was trying to figure out how to get her out. I suddenly remembered that when I was eight my mother taught me how to roll off the back of a speeding truck, should that contingency ever arise. (Only my mother would imagine such a precaution necessary...)
But my most interesting discovery has been that sometimes I find the truth about something after I’ve written a scene. My mother and her father did, in real life, have a rocky relationship, and I’ve borrowed that for Lane and her father. Like my mother, Lane has a younger sister who was very much favoured by her father because she is vivacious and undaunted by her father’s dark moods. In the same book where I nearly drove Lane off a cliff, I described the death of Lane’s mother when Lane was five, but her sister was only a baby. I wrote that Lane, who had known her mother’s love and mourned her, became a quiet and internal child, while her sister, who never really knew her mother at all, grew up free from the sorrow Lane experienced. Thus her sister grew up only knowing her father, and was also blessed with the more of the diablerie of many a younger sibling and so had a happier and less complicated relationship with her father. Lane on the other hand grew up thoughtful and internal, and her father had no idea how to deal with her, and as a consequence disliked her.
When I finished writing that scene I realized something I’d never thought of during all the years I knew about my own mother’s unhappy relationship with her own sister and father; that what I had written was exactly true for my mother and her sister, and their very unequal relationship with their father. It seems obvious now that I see it on paper, but I honestly didn't know until I'd written the scene for Lane.
This experience of discovery really reinforced for me my theory about brains…that our brains take in ridiculous amounts of information, and because we’re too busy watching Netflix or having Vespers, the brain has to do all the work of processing and finding meaning on its own. But if you give it any opening, like deciding to write without, (see previous blog), too much pre-planning, it comes into its own, and provides amazing insights, and some half decent stories.
here to edit.
Meet Lane Winslow!