Thursday, August 4, 2011
It's Not You-- It's Me.
As the launch of Base Spirits looms, I feel a need to address the portrayals of the two abusive husbands in my novel. Sir Walter Calverley is a creature of his time-- though I see enough sad tales in the news to know that such men do still exist. (As the original cover above says, it's 'not so new as lamentable and true'.) Happily for me, the monster in my book is in no way a version of any real person I've ever known. I did 'live' the part of Phillipa Calverley in the stage version of the central story, A Yorkshire Tragedy, and had to 'be' an abused wife who sees her children torn away. Thankfully, the only Sir Walter I've had to endure in my life has been a fellow actor's interpretation! All was forgiven in the pub after the curtain.
The other husband of note in Base Spirits is Professor Scott Atkinson.
Here's where real life has had some influence: my ex-husband is an English professor. At first I resisted the idea of writing Scott as one, but his character more-or-less presented himself to my Muse as a scholar, and it made good sense for the context of the narrative. The two of us actually did find and visit Calverley Old Hall during a trip for an academic conference, about the time I was in rehearsals for a Summerworks production of A Yorkshire Tragedy. In my book, there is a tension between the scholarly path and the writer's experience, but that is greatly exaggerated and not specific to my real-life interaction: I witness that eternal clash of cultures time and time again in my circles of theatrical pals and academic friends. I do NOT want to give the idea that Scott is supposed to 'be' my ex. I would hate anyone to think he was ever abusive to me. True, our marriage was not a success; but it was not in any way the violent train-wreck of the fictional Scott and Clara!
If anything, there are a couple of very positive attributes my Scott character has in common with my ex: they are both boyishly enthusiastic about the literature that they study, and both possess an uncanny knack for memorization. Other than that, my ex-- thank GOD-- is nothing like Scott! We both moved on a million years ago and I sincerely wish him nothing but joy in life.
The names for my contemporary main characters were derived from Calverley itself: there is a Clara Road in the village, and the original name of the resident noble family was 'Scot de Calverley', which was shortened over time.
Where do the explicit portrayals of such violent men come from? Essentially, I found them lurking deep inside myself. As my dear departed friend Timothy Findley used to say 'We are all of us a hiding place for monsters'.
And keeping with the Can-Lit quote theme... to paraphrase Margaret Atwood: 'Sometimes we just make things up'.
I've always likened writing to having a bag of material to sew into quilts. I am a scrap-gatherer collecting bits of 'fabric' from my reality: an angry, unblinking eye; the incessant jangle of keys in a pocket; the tilt of her head; the inflection in his voice... it all goes into my scrap bag. Bulging with images and gestures, turns of phrase and mannerisms, moments of shock and pleasure, the bag sits and waits for me to start the selection-- trimming and piecing, pinning squares together to sew into a crazy quilt. None of the patchwork makes sense on its own until it is part of a whole. The owners of the original fragments may not even recognize it as theirs, and for the most part that is for the best.