Today I am delighted to welcome Sarah Vincent, author of ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne’ (which I review here) to my blog. Sarah is responding to some questions I asked about her key characters, their relationships to each other, and her creative process. I love that she has wrapped up her answers in this fascinating post.
Most fiction writers I know get questioned about their main characters. Where did he or she come from, how did you think of her, and most worrying of all – she isn’t based on me is she? Of all the characters I’ve written about, none has aroused more curiosity than Rhiannon. So it was no surprise when Jackie, sending me possible themes for this blog, asked: ‘I wondered where Rhiannon came from.’
One lovely friend of mine thought I’d based Rhiannon on her. I had trouble reassuring her otherwise.
‘But the hazel eyes and the hugs’ she said. Yes, but apart from the hazel eyes, now gazing at me in a distressed fashion, and the comforting hugs they had not a thing in common.
The truth is that Rhiannon isn’t based on any of my family, friends, and acquaintances – honestly folks. She walked into the novel uninvited much as she walked into Vida’s cottage. And yet I knew she was there all the time. Kind of. It took me a while to realise this. Maybe I was three chapters in to building her character when it came to me – oh oh – it’s that woman again!
Looking back over my fiction, I saw that Rhiannon has turned up in various guises. There she is in a short story: ‘The Centipede’ published in an edition of Best New Horror, masquerading as Elsa the ex-pat living in rural Spain who annihilates her sister-in-law. In fact she turns up in my work with alarming frequency.
In ‘The Testament Of Vida Tremayne’ she is many things: the caring earth-mother, the fan who turns friend, the creative guru, the new-age counsellor, the saviour, the fiend. It took me a while to recognize her for what she actually is – an archetype of the Dark Mother, capable of both nourishment and destruction.
So why do I keep returning to this theme? Female relationships; friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, intrigue me, perhaps because women are more likely to conceal their true face to the world than men are. But I suppose it’s this business of female power which I find so interesting. What is it that makes one person able to dominate another to the point of extinction? Even more interesting, why does the weaker party allow it to happen? The controlling male who bullies his wife and kids is familiar in film and fiction, and we all know how that one ends. With women such power-games are more insidious, and ultimately more chilling. Just think of Zoe Heller’s brilliant ‘Notes on a Scandal’ for instance. In my work, this game tends to take on a supernatural aspect, but I’d guess the origins are rather more prosaic. In my younger days, I was a timid soul, shrinking in a corner at parties, blushing and tongue-tied. Probably for this reason, I seemed always to attract, stronger outgoing personalities, who I then found hard to shake off.
Another reason I brought in Rhiannon is that I’m naturally drawn to cuckoo-in-the-nest scenarios. Rhiannon’s purpose is unclear at first, yet she’s very much the cuckoo. The fact that the ‘nest’ belongs to an author heightens the stakes further. Vida is one of those novelists whose home is a place of retreat, so any invasion of her sanctuary is even more unsettling.
This is one of the reasons Vida needed to be a writer. That said, I’ll make a confession; Vida needed to be a writer because I also wanted to explore the creative process. Where does it come from? And trespassing into dangerous territory here I know, do the constraints of today’s publishing industry dampen creative freedom? That’s a topic I had a bit of fun with in this novel.
Back to the nest though, and daughter Dory is left to guard it whilst Vida’s in hospital. Which brings me to the mother-daughter relationship, another aspect people, including Jackie have commented on. So, mothers and daughters. Best friends or enemies? It’s rarely that simple and I wanted to cut through the sentiment and deal with the often fraught undercurrents as honestly as I could.
Finally, I hope I haven’t made Vida’s story sound like a tick-box process. In truth, it was, as someone once put it rather like, ‘setting off to sea without a compass.’ For me at least, it can take several drafts to see the themes emerge. Analysis comes later. That’s what makes writing a novel so exciting. I don’t know what I want to write until it’s written.
The Testament of Vida Tremayne is published by Three Hares Publishing and is available to buy now.