Wednesday 29 October 2014

Inspiration: Family

I think I've written repeatedly about family. It's clearly something that keep coming back, so I'll just risk repeating myself.

I think real life has made writing about family A Thing in my work.

Let me explain. My family, gods bless them, wasn't/isn't the sanest one. While my mother managed to create a more supportive micro-environment, my family's psycho-dynamics are shaped by a grandmother who had 8 living children (out of 12 births), but neither the interest nor the emotional resources to care for even one of them.

They were fathered by a WWII veteran so fucked up from his close, prolonged brush with death (he got out of Stalingrad before the 6th Army was locked in) and wracked, for the rest of his very long life, by what we would now call survivor's guilt plus a massive dose of PTSD. One symptom of that was ... let's say "emotional unavailability". He wasn't nasty, but he never did come home from Russia. And the only thing he ever loved were his horses. (You will recognize him in my next book after this one. I have a young officer there who even looks like him.)

Eight children, all competing to the blood for the love of parents that weren't there in any meaningful way. As they grew up, my grandmother played favourites. Two of her eldest daughters were pulled into a toxic game of "today I love you, tomorrow I hate you", played in a fashion that always pitted one against the other, and played essentially for forty years. I don't think she did it on purpose. There's also the story that she worked as a nurse at 17. She saw a lot of people die.

But all that still travelled along the bloodlines. And while I was lucky and never at the core of the toxic jockeying and politicking, it has shaped how I view families, and how I write them. Many of my characters are from toxic families, families that literally threaten their sanity and continued existence (say, the Spadaros, and I think the Krasnoradas fall into that too, in the widest sense).

Others have dead mothers. Some have dead mothers and fathers. (Inspiration for that is basically taken from real life.) Say, Kendras and Adrastes - and both of them deal with their dead fathers in different ways. Both recognize themselves in their fathers or try to not make their father's mistakes.

Other families exist, but far away, some kind of benevolent (the Bird Book), some anything but (Malcolm's family in Country Mouse/City Mouse).

You can always spot the autobiographical wound. It's in every book, even when I mask it or write around it (I don't want to be that authorial one-trick pony who keeps writing about the same stuff). At times I'm leaving family out (Return on Investment), but even the absence signifies something. The unspoken can be just as significant, and usually is.

As a writer, I think I'll eventually get there to write about families that are not toxic, destructive/self-destructive/oppressive/dangerous. It would make a nice change. On the other hand, I think all families are messed up - by some standards, mine isn't even anything special. Some of its members needed 15 years of therapy to be able to cope, others have the luxury of writing about them.

Over time, I'll continue to dig into that toxic mess from several angles and try to make sense of it. I haven't even managed to write about the really vile stuff - the crimes and deliberate cruelty. There's an "accident" (read: likely murder) and at least one rape that'll keep me busy if I ever want to write a *really* dark book. I'm not there yet. Maybe I'm hoping that people die before I can write what I think is the truth, or at the very least, a compelling enough "myth" that it shaped my family and how those people act and react and interpret life.

And I'm not even beginning to look at the small, but much more pervasive stuff (like family members, both blood and married, who are not just right-wing but could be legitimately be classed as skinheads and Neo-Nazis).

Somebody once said that just surviving into adulthood means you have enough material for a lifetime of books. The books I'm bringing from there will at times be dark. It's my baggage, the load I carry. Above all, I'm glad for the distance in time and space and that I have the tools to make sense of it all.

1 comment:

  1. Oh. My. Wow.
    Families are indeed strange and sometimes impossible constructions. Mine however appears a prime example of stability compared to what you described and hinted at in that post. And I really don't know what else to say about that.

    Writing is a funny business. When, this time last year, I decided to try NaNoWriMo to see if there's any truth in the saying that every person has at least one book in them, all I had was one sentence. Something somebody, allegedly, said about me in the past. Now that the book is through edits and to be published in a few months that one sentence is still the only really personal aspect in that story. Having said that, a lot of me ended up in at least two of the characters, in far less obvious ways though. I'm not quite brave enough yet to delve into the darker memories and stories. They are there, and I won't be surprised when they end up on my screen one day. I'm not quite there yet though.

    On a completely different note and talking about WWII, remind me to tell you about my uncle one day. There's a story I would love to write and probably never will. All I know about his past adventures came from my mother. He's never talked about it and we were forbidden to ask him about it. He's still alive and has a daughter. I don't think I have the right to tell his story if he refuses to tell it himself. The book it would make though.