Monday, 10 December 2012

Pauline Fisk: On Synchronicity, Extraordinary Coincidences in my Writing Life and 'Telling the Sea'

The term synchronicity, as I understand it, was coined by Carl Jung to express the concept of significant coincidences, or the imbuing of propitious moments with some form of transcendental meaning. As an author, such moments stand out in my writing life. They don’t happen often - but they are quite extraordinary when they do, and I never forget them.  

Let me share with you a few examples. When I was writing ‘The Red Judge’, one of my ‘Children of Plynlimon’ books, I had two such experiences.  The first involved the Red Judge himself. The climax of the novel needed to be in the heart of the Forest of Dean, and I’d made the decision that it shouldn’t happen outdoors, so booked myself into the Speech House Hotel - which was at the dead centre of the forest - to see whether it might be the right sort of location. It most definitely had the atmosphere I was looking for and, in case there should be any doubt that I had found what had to be my location, as I was settling up to leave I noticed a painting tucked away behind the Reception Desk. ‘Who’s that?’ I asked, looking at the somber face of some seventeenth century gentleman clad in red robes. ‘Oh, we don’t know,’ came the reply. ‘Just some old judge.’

Even stranger though, in the early stages of writing that book, I had reason to look into the history of conjuring.  I’d wanted the evil villain of my piece to be a conjuror, and to give him authenticity had decided to base him on some real character out of legerdemain’s long and colourful history. The character I’d chosen, whose name I used in the book, was one Dr Katterfelto, self-styled King of Conjurors. I’d enjoyed writing him in, and was doing further research out of interest because his colourful character had rather captivated me. I found out that he’d fallen on hard times, been forced to give up his theatre in Piccadilly and bowled up in my home town, which was something of a coincidence. Reading on, however, I discovered that he’d not only come to my small country town, but ended up in its debtor’s gaol - and that’s where the syncronicity kicks in because back in Katterfelto’s day, my house was the debtors’ gaol.  It still has the old gaol door, studded with iron nails. The basement, above which I’m writing this now, still containing the remains of the cells.

 In other words, I’d chosen to write into my book an obscure character out of eighteenth century history, who had once lived in my house. Carl Jung, what do you say about that?

I could go on like this, but I won’t. The only other story I’ll mentioned here happened when I was writing my second novel, ‘Telling the Sea’.  I had won the Smarties Book Prize with ‘Midnight Blue’ and was determined to prove I wasn’t a one-trick pony and could write other sorts of books.  Where ‘Midnight Blue’ had been shot through with fantasy, ‘Telling the Sea’ would be as gritty and down to earth a story as I could make it.

I laboured on it for a whole year, knowing my publisher would have liked a sequel to ‘Midnight Blue’, or something in similar vein.  By Christmas the book was nearly finished – and so was I. Taking a break for the festive season only increased my sense of anxiety about whether my tale of an abused mother, oldest daughter Nona and her four traumatized brothers and sisters running away to the wild Welsh coast was what anybody wanted to read.  I worried all through Christmas, and after New Year, chopping up the Christmas tree to feed onto the fire [prior to picking up my manuscript and carrying on], I was still worrying. It wasn’t that I had doubts about the actual quality of the book. I was proud of ‘Telling the Sea’. It had proved to me at least, that I wasn’t a one-trick pony. In addition, I’d grown deeply fond of my characters [I still think that among them are some of the best characters I’ve  written]. However, there was personal tragedy behind the central story of a fatal attraction to the sea, and I couldn’t imagine ever posting off my manuscript and allowing it out into the world.

And then in the Christmas tree, tucked down out of sight, I found a tiny wren’s nest.  Just at the moment when I most needed somebody to say it’s going to be all right, panic not, there it was.  And what was the name of the cottage to which Nona and her family escaped? You may have guessed it. In the Welsh, Nyth-y-Dryw. Or, in the English, Wren’s Nest.

‘Telling the Sea’ is being launched again TODAY, this time for the e-book market.  With a film crew, I’ve been down to the real live cottage behind the fictional Wren’s Nest to make a little film about the writing of the book.  If you want to view it, here’s the link.  If you want to buy the book to read on the fabulous new full-colour, yummy Kindle Fire that you’re going to be given this Christmas, here’s the link for that too.  I’ve been busy editing 'Telling the Sea' for a new generation of readers, and here it is, Christmas again. What will I find hidden in my tree? I’ll have to wait and see.



Penny Dolan said...

Fascinating post about coincidences that become much more than coincidences. Loved the film about the house and the beaches too, though glad I was here and home indoors on a day like this. Now for the kindle . . .

Congratulations and happy e-day!

Pauline Fisk said...

Thank you Penny. Having been up most of night I'm now in bed with newspaper, dogs & bread and cheese. Happy launch day indeed!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Pauline happy happy relaunch day! What a marvellous story of Dr Katterfelto but more so, what a wonderful video and record of how and why you wrote "Telling the Sea" because of course 20 years ago, one wouldn't even have imagined making a video of one's work.

I too have a house next to the sea that I visit annually... on what tourists think of as a sublime coast. But it can also be wild and stprmy and has an unspoilt peninsula that runs straight out into the Atlantica rollers as they beat up from the Antartic. So I loved every moment of your video and the idea as you put it... "there is something extraordinary about places at the end of the world" and that people have 'interesting relationships with wild places." Its odd, if I've somehow not managed to go right out to the point of that peninsula (a 4 hour round trip walk) and return to London without having done it, I feel oddly bereft.

Your film was a wonderful tribute to how you write and also a tribute to the places where inspiration come from. Thank you for lovely experience. I await my Kindle Fire!

Pauline Fisk said...

Diane, thank you so much for your kind words. I think those of us with an affinity for wild places, especially the sea, should stick together! It's what's always there, isn't it, at the end of everything. My experience of these 'ends of the world' places is that they're often where people ruck up who've been running and can go no further. Consequently they become places for starting new lives - either in splendid isolation, [like Griselda in 'Telling the Sea' who lives in a tent in the common] or as part of some tenuous community, which is what my heroine Nona, and her family are trying so hard [and failing] NOT to do.

And then, of course, there are the people like us. Least said about us the best, i guess.

PS. The Kindle Fire is a thing of beauty. I read out of duty on my grey ordinary, flat, rectangular Kindle before, but now I read with relish. And watch films. And do so much else.