Saturday, July 17, 2010

Guest Post ~ Catherine Hall

Where does it all begin?

I’m often asked where the inspiration for my writing comes from – and it’s a question I find very difficult to answer. I’m never quite sure what I’ve stored in my unconscious to come out, sometimes decades later. But what I do know is that it always starts with a character.

My novel DAYS OF GRACE began with Nora, an elderly woman living on her own in north London, lonely, sick, and plagued with guilty memories. On the face of it, that might have seemed an odd choice for a writer in her early thirties. What could I possibly know about old age and terminal illness?

But I was at a particularly difficult time in my life. I’d just come to the end of a five year relationship, I had nowhere to live, and was stuck in a job that I hated. I was feeling very sorry for myself. It was a public holiday at the end of August and I was staying with friends who’d gone away for the weekend, like most Londoners do on these occasions. I sat in the garden trying to write, but felt completely lacking in inspiration. Instead I started to think about my future, indulging in melodramatic little fantasies about the old woman that I might one day become, living alone, slightly difficult, and avoided by others.

I began to write about the strange emptiness of long urban weekends and put my old woman into that setting. That was the impetus I needed to begin. Looking back, it made sense. Over the years I’ve met a lot of old women and I find their stories fascinating. I’m angry about how, in our youth-obsessed culture, the elderly have become almost invisible or seen as a burden. I became fascinated by the idea that an old woman, ignored by those who pass her on the street, might have had a history – one that is not at all what one might expect.

Again, there was a personal element to this. I feel very lucky that I’ve never had to hide my sexuality, but I know that things were very different in the past. Many of the older women I’ve spoken to still find it very difficult to talk about experiences that they had with other women. Some ended up marrying men to keep up the pretence of heterosexuality, others felt very bitter at opportunities never taken because of fear and shame. I wanted to write about the corrosive nature of that shame, how it limits people, stops them from doing what could make them happy and prevents them from reaching their true potential. That’s why I begin the book with a quote from William Blake:
‘He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.’

I really do believe that if you push things under the carpet, and force people to hide their true selves, bad things inevitably happen.

And so, with Nora, my job was to trace back what those bad things were – what happened to make her so alone and so damaged. It took me another four years to do it…

Days of Grace: A Novel

At the beginning of World War II, twelve-year-old Nora Lynch is one of thousands of London children sent away to the safety of the English countryside. Her surrogate family, Reverend and Mrs. Rivers and their daughter Grace, are like no-one she has ever met, offering shelter, affection, and the sister she never had. But Nora is too young and too naïve to understand the cracks beneath the surface of her idyllic new life at the rectory, or the disappointments of the Riverses' marriage. And as her friendship with Grace grows more intense, she aches to become even closer. What happens next is a secret that she keeps for more than fifty years, a secret that she can begin to reveal only when, elderly and alone, Nora knows that she is close to the end.

A beautiful meditation on love, friendship, and family, Days of Grace is a stunning debut that brings a tumultuous era to life. Nora tells her story in alternating chapters from the past and present, projecting her childhood nostalgia with a cinematic glow.  


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

What amazing insight -- thank you so very much for sharing. It's always inspiring to read of an author's experiences, thoughts, and drivers for a particular novel -- this book sounds very interesting and I will definitely have to seek this out!

librarypat said...

The lack of understanding and acceptance is something that I am afraid will always be with us. I have tried to have discussions on this topic and find it so frustrating when people don't listen, they just react. One of my daughter's room mates at college and another friend became a couple. When the one girl went home over Easter, she announced her lifestyle to her parents and sister. Her father threw her out of the house right away and informed her she was no longer their daughter.

It is not a choice, it is who you are. Who would choose a way of life that would cause them so much grief. It is not antisocial behavior. It is found in all cultures around the world - where it is accepted and where it is not. It is a shame so many people cannot accept people as they are and stop acting like they might catch something. All it proves is how insecure they are in who they are.
Good luck with the release of you book.