Thursday, March 17, 2016

Doreen and Laura

By Catriona

Do I ever base characters on real people?

Well, let's get this out of the way. I never base nasty characters on people I don't like, lovingly describing their bad clothes, breath and personalities. I mean, truly, hardly ever. Seldom. Not for while. In short, yes.

Moving on.

The second Dandy Gilver novel THE BURRY MAN'S DAY was set in the village where I was born, like my father before me, and begins during the second weekend of August in 1923, when my Godmother, the redoubtable Auntie Doreen, was just six weeks old.

I had Dandy get landed with the unpleasant task of judging the bonny baby competition at the local fair and, despite the advice of the judges in the agricultural categories (who do it pretty much by weight), Dandy found herself diverted by a little red-haired scrap with speedwell blue eyes who reached out and stroked Dandy's fox fur with delight.

That was my Auntie Doreen all over. She adored expensive clothes, shoes and cosmetics and would buy a Jenner's dress the wrong colour that didn't fit and have it altered and dyed, rather than go next door to Marks and Spencer's and get the perfect thing for a third of the price. (She died before I started dumpster-diving so she never had to deal with that horror.)

Then last year in The Child Garden I revisited another, very different but just as redoubtable, woman who used to be part of my life. Laura McRoberts was my Step-Grandmother-in-law and she was a splendid old trout. She had been a minister's wife, although that probably only sums her for Scots. Americans should imagine absolute self-assurance and a brusque kindliness delivered in ringing tones. With scones.

By the time I met Laura she was blind and had had both legs amputated, but she still lived alone in her own little house and wouldn't let visitors help with the scones. She also had a granite belief in her recall of Edinburgh and would argue you to numb silence about the street lay-out and bus routes that she knew from the 60s . . . and you'd been on that morning, coming to see her.

God, she was infuriating. And how I loved her! Miss Drumm in THE CHILD GARDEN  is Laura from the peremptory remarks fired at lesser beings (that's just about everyone) to her soft-heartedness around animals and fierce contempt for anyone who harmed them. Writing it felt a lot like visiting her again.


Pat D said...

It's nice to have a fallback when someone says "Nobody could be like that in real life." Then you can say " well, my aunt so-and-so did that very thing over and over. So there."

Anonymous said...

I think I would have loved having these 2 great women as friends. Strong woman aren't new there is just more of them. Ruth Nixon

RJ Harlick said...

A lovely way to remember people who have resonated with you.

Susan C Shea said...

Yes, it's the strong people who inspire the strong characters, and the better we know them, the more we can guess at why they became that way. But it's tricky - probably easier to liberate the memories of the deceased than to squint at your dear husband and plop him into a story. That's why I was so relieved that my friend Alice (see Monday's post) was willing to be a central character in a book. The best part: she didn't hover, edit, suggest, or give me dark looks when she read what I made of her.