I went to a workshop recently run by Fremantle Press who I hope to be published by one day. It was lovely, interesting and extremely useful and I had a break through. I finally discovered the thing about my book that has been dogging me for some time –
Explaining what the hell it is about.
When I started writing The Warder’s Cottage I wanted to write a version of Fremantle I struggled to find. Mine. I wanted to take my childhood where I’d imagine families and children traipsing up and down the staircase a hundred years earlier and filter that essence into the story. What were they like? Were there any children? Who were they? What kind of lives did they lead?
My research would bring up the occasional tale of baby boomers sharing their unique experiences of growing up in eras irrelevant to my story; one steeped in seventies hues and echoes of the Victorian period.
Recently some paving contractors did a job at the cottages and posted pictures of their efforts. I shared my tale and they commented how old the place must be because the doorways are so low. I never thought of Henderson Street as being from any time period other than the 1800’s, which as a child with a vivid imagination and the amount of Sullivans I was viewing – it’s weird I didn’t.
I’m neither here nor there on the topic of ghosts, but as a kid in that house I was constantly sprinting from one lot of shadows to the next. There was an aura of the really old and unknown and that is what I wanted to ring through. Thankfully when I started to dig a little deeper the dates all aligned for what I hoped would be an accurate, yet interesting tale.
This background of my part in the story is all rather easy to explain. The rest not so much.
What is your book about?
(Cue spluttery, fidgeting, eye twitching nervy cliches.)
Well.. it’s three parts… each part representing the three main characters who all have something in common with the Warder’s Cottage. It’s not actually about the Warder’s Cottage per se, more it is used as a vessel to orchestrate these women’s lives …
and this is where I trail off.
Here is the long and short of it:
My first protagonist is a faerie. She has been banished from the Faedom and meets a Viking who has also been banished from his people and thrown overboard en route to Iceland. The pair forge a bond and he promises to help her fulfill her quest which is this:
Re-write the current path of the humans future in which man and woman are no longer in balance or connected to themselves, each other, earth, life, source.
Super light. Nothing too heavy.
She must produce an heir, train her up in the quest mission so that she will carry on, do her bit and pass it on to the next gen and so and so on. But this child (part 2 – protagonist) has no interest and falls in love with a prison warden with his own issues.
All these trials and tribulations make up the first two parts. The last part is heavily steeped in my own childhood and the third protagonist – Molly. But this was not a cutesy reflective memoirish thing about my life growing up in Fremantle, even though my interest and fascination was initially driving it that way.
Instead I used that experience to draw accurately from the time and space of Fremantle and the Warder’s Cottage itself – which (besides cosmetically) until recently was unchanging.
Molly is the key to picking up the pieces from the daughter (protagonist 2) and her shunning of fulfilling the quest. So this is a bit of a head cluster in itself and even though I’ve done the “describe your book in 3 minutes/30 words/back blurb…etc” I STRUGGLE to string it all together verbally with confidence.
It’s becoming more clear. Slowly.
The underlying theme that drives the book from woe to go was a surprise to me. At its infancy The Warder’s Cottage was about faeries in Fremantle, but this was the imaginings of mid-twenties me.
The #metoo and #timesup campaigns played a heavy part in the new direction of the story, however it wasn’t until I read Melanie Tonia Evans’ article about the quickening and the global feminine wounding that I realised how perfectly it fit with what I was feeling and trying to say.
This wasn’t a girl power/male bashing thing for me. I couldn’t turn these characters into fist pumping feminists if I wanted to because it would read ridiculously. I had demure women doing their own thing in a time when unless you were rich (and even if you were you still copped it) women were rather irrelevant and powerless.
The supernatural element gave me a freedom to gift my heroines with powers – mostly unseen by a society that would have found it very foreign or branded witchcraft. The powers lend to the underlying message, but like the message they are subtle and not smashing the reader at every turn of the page.
Writing an historical fantasy and having your characters behaving so out of character for that time runs the risk of becoming preposterous. Exhibit A – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – WHICH I ADORED… but questioned heavily at the same time. Zombies in Victorian England are believable. Victorian women behaving like highly trained assassins – probably not.
My characters don’t have mad ninja warrior skills and even if they did the reader wouldn’t see them because it would take away from the authenticity of Fremantle during that era and the story would become farcical. I owe it to Fremantle and myself to honour some basic rules.
My main character is on a quest – but what? Why is she banished and what would compel her to travel all the way from Orkney to Fremantle in 1850? Severely long story short – 1980s Molly who knows no distinction between gender roles and views the role through a rose hippie lense.
And this is what a lovely gentleman extracted when he was set with the task of interviewing me about my book. But it took a while. He initially made stereotypical presumptions and was really confused at what I – an apparent younger writer (in a room populated by mainly 60+ aged writers) – was suggesting…
“the whole women’s movement thing has happened for a reason, it’s a pattern, we’ve been here before, it keeps repeating because we get so close to the message and then get distracted, history is giving us the answers we’ve forgotten – we used to walk together, we used to create and serve and lift and move as one and no I don’t think women should rule the world but neither should men… it’s about the balance and getting back to the balance we once had instead of warring with each other over who should have power. In this alternative reality there is no need for warring because there is no need for that thirst for power – as it once was as it should be…”
and it took a long time to compute because he didn’t believe, or probably he was trying to wrap his head around what I was poorly communicating. I could see him trying to remove my emotional attachment and get to the facts. He kept veering me to cliches.
Oh, is it reflective?
Is it a feminist fiction?
Is it about equality?
You think we should be worshipping the goddess still?
You think women should rule the world?
You think we should return to paganism?
No. It’s not a bra burning protesting man hating women ruling goddess pagan wiccan witchy worshipping anything. It’s not an attack or a shunning of any religion or belief system. It’s taking the original parts of those dogmas – instilled in good – and redirecting them away from being used as a means of control. It’s an alternative perspective; an altered reality. What would have happened if we didn’t turn from worshipping the earth, the goddess, the green man, the harvest and the cycle of all that surrounds us and is within us? While these aren’t the main focus of the book or the answers to the worlds issues now – they are an interesting point in our history to reflect on. A time when we did unite and flow – imagined or not.
So. Protagonist 1 misses the boat to influence man from turning away from woman and woman forgetting her purpose. She fails to create the world where we maintain the balance and co-exist in harmony. She attempts to instill the solutions and the answers into her daughter and eventually Molly. Who goes forth, writes her blog and her books and does her bit to get us back on track where we are no longer at war with each other. Where all the rubbish becomes obsolete. Where we step together as one. Where sexism, racism, fascism, persecution in all forms are just not there. Petty jealousies and one upmanship and competition and all that makes us do whatever it takes against others in order to get what we want – are non-existent because there is no need, no place for such things.
What if we didn’t turn from ourselves, one another, nature, source, within? What would our focus be on now? It’s a ridiculously broad question with so many variables one could go mad considering them all (clearly I’m half way there). In fiction it’s thrilling to create and imagine.
But trying to explain! Gobbledyfrickengoop! All I know is that every time I try it’s like someone puts a spell on my tongue to stop anything other than nonsensical rubbish coming out of my mouth. So hopefully it will come through in the book that no matter what level the reader is at something will resonate. Just as it did with my interviewer who shook my hand and said,
“Truly, thank you. I was not expecting any of that. That was absolutely delightful.”
It was an amazing exchange between two strangers and it was a perfect example of what I’ve been trying to articulate. When he read it out the publisher seemed to light up.
“That’s it. That wasn’t there before and that’s something I would want to read more of. The childhood connection to the Warder’s Cottage and to Fremantle is cute and all, but “We used to walk together. We used to move as one.” that’s current. It’s relative and it makes me want to know more.”
It felt like I’d won a Nobel Prize.
Now I just have to write it.