Here is a picture of me and my great friend Sue Barnard chez moi and I am delighted to welcome her guest post on the blog today
Challenging Traditional Views
One of the major turning-points in my life was a conversation I had, more than twenty years ago, with an extremely wise Anglican nun. She made a comment which astounded me because it displayed what a strong overlap she had with the real world. Until that moment, I’d always imagined “monastic” types to be as I’d read about them in books or seen them portrayed in films – stern, unsmiling, unsympathetic, and with little or no grasp of life outside the cloister.
“That’s a very worldly thing to say,” I said to her, “for a—“
“Monastic?” she finished the sentence for me. “Yes, Sue, I know. You aren’t the first person to say that, and you certainly won’t be the last. Every time someone says that to me, my answer is always the same: I did not come out of the womb wearing this habit. I lived in the real world for more than thirty years before I became a nun.”
Years later, I began thinking about writing the story which I’d always wanted to read: the version of Romeo & Juliet which had a happy ending. Very early in the process I realised who was going to be my main protagonist: Fra’ Lorenzo – the person known in the play as Friar Lawrence. I’ve always been fascinated by this character, and have wondered in particular why he behaves as he does – and I quickly came to the conclusion that, just like my real-life nun friend, he too must have lived in the real world before taking holy orders. So by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible explanations. It’s difficult to talk about these here without revealing spoilers, but suffice it to say that as this extract illustrates, Lorenzo’s experiences before he entered the friary have stood him in good stead for what is to follow. And Romeo, too, finds that his own views about monastics are severely challenged:
“Does [Rosaline] return your affection?” [I asked]
“Alas, she has sworn to remain chaste. And I–“
“Then why do you persist in doting on her?”
“Doting? I am not doting. I love her to distraction…”
“If she does not love you in return, then your devotion is wasted.”
Romeo turned angrily to face me. “What do you know of love?”
I drew a deep breath, and answered quietly, “Much more than you might realise.”
“What? But you are a monk…”
“I was not always a monk.”
Romeo was startled. This possibility had clearly never entered his mind.
“Father,” he asked cautiously, “have you ever been in love?”
“Yes, son, I have.”
“What became of her?”
I hung my head, unable to meet his eyes. “She married another.”
I looked up to find Romeo studying me intently, almost as though he were seeing me for the very first time.
(Edited extract from The Ghostly Father)
My second novel, Nice Girls Don’t (released earlier this month), sets about challenging a different set of traditional views. The book, which is set in 1982, began life a couple of years ago as a project in an online workshop on the subject of writing romantic fiction. But whilst there is a romance running through the story, the narrative also has a grittier, darker side – one which will, I hope, make the reader stop and think. Again, it is difficult to talk about this in detail here without giving too much away. But in general terms, there are some long-established issues where, on a personal as well as a global level, traditional attitudes and expectations have failed to be fair to both sides.
In Nice Girls Don’t I have tried, at least in part, to redress that balance. And by holding up a mirror to the circumstances, views and attitudes of the 1980s and the years leading up to them, I also hope to demonstrate to those of my readers who are too young to remember that particular era just how much things have changed – hopefully for the better – over the course of a generation.
Sue’s two novels The Ghostly Father (which was nominated for the 2014 Guardian First Book Award and the Guardian 2014 Not The Booker Prize) and Nice Girls Don’t are both are published by Crooked Cat Publishing and are available in paperback and e-book form.
Sue is also a member of Crooked Cat’s editorial team. You can read her blog here.
Please vote for The Ghostly Father with the Guardian here