Thursday, March 7, 2019

All in the Family

LIFE: Do family and friends and their lives become fodder for your stories and, if so, do they ever recognize themselves and complain?

I just read this question out loud to my husband. He said "No." Then thought, laughed, and amended it to "No, we don't because we're morons."

To be fair, two of the three times I've slotted a family member straight into a novel it was as a tribute after their death. 

In THE BURRY MAN'S DAY (Dandy Gilver No.2) I put my Godmother and aunt Doreen McPherson (nee Urquhart) right in the story in Queensferry, the village where she wwas born, at the age she would have been the second Saturday in August 1923. In fact , I let her win the bonny baby competition at the Ferry Fair.

"Two shrewd, round, blue eyes looked back at me from under a wisp of dark hair with just a glint of red in it. The baby could not have been more than six weeks old, still with the elfish look of the newborn, the look which I am sure is responsible for all those fairytales about changelings. As her mother loosened the shawl further, a tiny fist sprang out and spread like a star fish in front of me. I bent closer and put my finger to her palm, expecting her to grasp it - my fingers had been grasped and sucked and even nibbled all along the line - but Doreen, looking past my face, sank her fingers deep into my fox fur. She was too tiny to chuckle but she gave a small purr like a nursing cat and smiled faintly. 'A taste for the finer things in life,' I said to her mother."

And she certainly did have that. Here she is a few decades later at my parents' wedding, along with one of her sons. (The fact that she had only sons and yet loved buying pretty things was great for me and my sisters!)

I did something similar in THE CHILD GARDEN, changing the name of my step-granny-in-law - Laura McRoberts - to Miss Drumm, but otherwise plopping her right into the book unchanged in herself. Laura was a force to be reckoned with. She was in poor health when I met her, blind and with both legs amputated at the knee, yet still living alone in her own house and still insistent that she would make the tea for visitors and set out the scones and that she knew better the streets and bus routes of Edinburgh (she hadn't lived there for sixty years) than we did (who'd come from there that morning). God she was annoying. And magnificent. Here she is in fictional form:

"'... damaged goods,' Miss Drumm would say when she was in one of her black moods. 'No  good for Oxfam, no takers on eBay.'
'I've a good mind to list you,' I'd tell her. 'See if you're right.'
Sometimes she'd just glare at me out of her blind eyes, but sometimes she'd laugh that laugh of hers. One time she asked me what I would put.
'Old lady. Good conversationalist but somewhat grumpy. No reserve.'"

Then there was DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS. I'm a pantser. One of the first-draft tasks that I find most difficult to do smoothly, without getting in the way of my story, is naming a slew of characters all at once. Dandy Gilver going undercover as a lady's maid in a grand house was a toughie: she met twelve servants all at the same time.  I sat there for a bit with my fingers twitching, needing thirteen names, then decided to call them after my sisters and their children who added up to thirteen. 

Miss Rossiter, Clara, Amelia, Meggie, Celia, Louis, Harry, Mr Colmb, Mattie, Mrs Fraser, Ina, Gwen, and Eldry (short for Etheldreda). 

were named after:

Ross, Claire, Amy, Megan, Sheila, Lewis, Harris, Callum, Mathew, Fraser, Iain, Wendy and Audrey (a short form of Etheldreda).

Not all of them made through the edit process for various reasons and so no one ever guessed that the survivors - Miss Rossiter, Clara, Amelia, Harry, Mattie and Eldry - came from anywhere in real life. I've used this method of naming characters several times since: a batch of schoolgirls in one novel, a bunch of American tourists visiting a Scottish castle in another - but I think I'll leave them encoded for now. 

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Clever coding for all those kids' names. I know the feeling of casting about for a name - any name - that hasn't been used and might make even a bit of sense in the wip. And I love your description of the baby - sweet.