In my last post, I talked about how the initial spark of The Place Between came to be. You might remember that it developed from a snippet of overheard conversation at Perth airport. A woman in her sixties was complaining that her daughter never made her pudding when they went over to her house for dinner.
This isn’t much to work with. Let’s be honest, it isn’t much of anything. People complain about their family all the time. But it was a conversation I couldn’t get out of my head. It played out with fercoity and in much greater detail in my thoughts as my imagination pitted mother against daughter. Because to me, (and therefore to the two fictional characters who were born from the phrase ‘she never even makes us pudding’) this glimpse into someone else’s life created an instant snapshot of who these people were. I could ‘see’ Sarah and Beryl. Worse, I could ‘hear’ them.
When I write, I often begin with dialogue as the scaffold for the story. This is because more than story, setting or theme, characters are the first thing I imagine when I’m writing something new. Character voices start to whisper to me. Their way of speaking and—dare I admit it—their complaints. Perhaps that’s why this conversation sang to me in a way that someone whinging over something so trivial shouldn’t.
I lay awake at night, listening to Sarah and Beryl duke it out over all the things they didn’t like about each other. All the ways they had disappointed each other.
The first rounds of drafting were a bitter battle between mother and daughter. Early feedback went along the lines of “Why is Sarah so mean?” and “Why is Beryl such b#$%h?” Of course, that was only part of the story. Almost as if these two women (and they are real people to me) had to get it all out on the page before they would let me ease it back shape into a more pleasing, whole and less antagonistic version of events.
Their voices eventually quietened down, but they weren’t completely gone. Even now.
Sarah and Beryl’s internal dialogue and conversation helped me build a framework for their story as I went about the process of trying to understand why these women felt the way they did about each other. How had their internalised constructions of identity—for themselves and for each other—shaped their relationship? What would happen if those expectations were voiced, explicit and quantifiable? My characters whined… but why? What had unsettled them, what was really at the heart of their dissatisfaction with each other because it just couldn’t be as simply as a missing dessert.
For Sarah and Beryl, each had their own version of who the other should be. But there is no one, no right or true identity. Both were doomed to fail in the other’s eyes.
Ten years is a long time to have a running conversation between two invented characters in your head. Hopefully, the next set of characters won’t be such long-term tenants.