Guest Post and Review: Vivienne Tuffnell, Author of ‘Little Gidding Girl’

I’m delighted to host author Vivienne Tuffnell today on my blog. Front cover of novel "Little Gidding Girl" by Vivienne TuffnellI’ve followed Vivienne’s blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking now for several years, and reblogged one of her posts here; I’ve also read four of her previous books: Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking, Square Peg, Away With the Fairies and Hallowed Hollow. Today she is here to talk about her inspiration for her new novel Little Gidding Girl.

Here is the blurb for the story:

At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean. ‘From the unknown spaces between what is, was, and will be, messages and sendings break through into Verity’s life: are they nightmares of a parallel reality or projections from a love that has flown? Vivienne Tuffnell keeps us guessing with utmost artistry as we trace the interweaving way-marks in pursuit of the truth. Little Gidding Girl kept me enthralled until the very end.’ – Caitlín Matthews, author of Singing the Soul Back Home, and Diary of a Soul Doctor

Now it’s time for Vivienne to tell us how the ideas for this novel first came to her. You’ll find my 5 star review of the novel at the end of this post.

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AUTHOR VIVIENNE TUFFNELL:

“We’re all mad here,”- the inspirations behind Little Gidding Girl.

 

One of the questions most writers get asked from time to time is “Where do you get your ideas?” and it’s also the most difficult to answer because it varies enormously for each writer and for every book. But being asked, “What was the inspiration behind your book?” is often simpler because it’s more precise.  So when Sheila asked me about the inspiration behind Little Gidding Girl, the real difficulty was casting my mind back about fourteen years ago to a period when I was almost bursting with creativity and ideas and winnow out what really inspired that particular book.

We’d moved to a new area and that is something that is always unsettling and unnerving, and within a few months of arriving I began writing again. I’d turned my back on writing for all sorts of reasons. Roadblocks where agents and publishers would take up a book with interest and then reject it or ask me to rewrite and then reject it again, created such tension in me that I became ill, almost fatally so, and to save my health and my sanity, I stopped writing altogether. Eight years had passed where I’d written nothing longer than a letter, when a whole novel sprang to my mind and poured out almost uncontrollably in an unprecedented flood. More novels followed, Little Gidding Girl  being among them, but its origins lie (as almost always for me) within the unconscious mind.

I’d begun dreaming again. Powerful, vivid, compelling and often lucid dreams that left me exhausted and haunted. One afternoon, I had a snooze and thought I’d woken up, and was getting dressed in brand new jeans that required a coat-hanger to ease the zip up, when my son burst into the room demanding something or other. He hadn’t knocked and I was upset and cross with him, and humiliated because the jeans were so tight, I had visible muffin-tops of fat spilling over the waistband.

The thing is, I don’t have a son.

I’ve never had a son, only a daughter, who at that stage was in her early teens. I woke again, properly this time, rather shocked and shaken by this experience. I made a note of the dream and let it go. More odd dreams followed. In one I was in a school science lab, attempting to teach something I didn’t understand, when the lab bench started to fade in and out and be replaced by a flower bed. In another, I went to the bottom of my garden to discover a massive trench (like in Time Team) and a row of shelves with finds laid out on them. But the finds were all modern rubbish and not archaeology.

A whole series of extraordinary dreams occurred, leaving me spell-bound and baffled, because they all seemed to connect to a life I’d never had but might have done. Like many women, I’ve experienced the loss of pregnancy in miscarriages. I’ve never grieved much, for those potential babies, but I have always felt a tiny bit sad that life circumstances and the revelation that I’m not much good with babies and children led me to decide that one child was all I should have. In another universe I might have been one of those earth-mother types, perhaps, but not in this one.

Around the same time, I’d begun to be a bit obsessed with Four Quartets. I’d never studied it at university, and a quote somewhere set me to seek out a copy and read it. It seemed to hold so much, so much that science and religion in their blunter, less mystical forms, simply did not express in ways I could relate to. I began to think about the paths I never took, the doors I never opened, the rose gardens I never stepped into, and it felt like the dreams were showing me glimpses of those other realities that never happened. Any belief that other paths might have been nicer, sweeter or more successful than the one I did take soon began to crumble. In the Narnia books, Aslan says that no one is ever told what would have happened, and yet, sometimes I believe we are shown a tiny vision of the other lives we might have lived. Sometimes it’s to comfort us, sometimes it’s to inspire us but always it is to root us in the reality of what is  rather than what might have been.

In Little Gidding Girl, the might-have-beens become the growing focus of Verity’s attention, forcing their way through in powerful ways that leave her unsettled and unstable. My agent asked me if she was insane and I still don’t know how to answer that. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland:

 “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Perhaps now, like the Alice speaking to the Mad Hatter, I’d say: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

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Thank you Vivienne – this gives a fascinating insight into the background to your novel. I too have long been interested in paying attention to and recording dreams, and to learn that you were inspired to write Little Gidding Girl by your dreams particularly intrigues me.

MY REVIEW OF LITTLE GIDDING GIRL

A very sensitive book which represents an unusual exploration of grief and blends it with the philosophy expressed by TS Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding’ from ‘The Four Quartets’. The main protagonist Verity is living with unresolved emotions from the accidental death of her boyfriend nineteen years earlier. Though her present-day marriage is ostensibly happy and her life relatively comfortable, she has never stopped engaging on an unconscous level with the life she imagines she would have lived, had that boyfriend not died. Vivienne Tuffnell handles the female relationships in Verity’s life with sharp perception and wit, and I loved her descriptions of the New Age shop that Verity works in, whilst being exploited by the rather unpleasant owner of the shop, manipulative therapist Juliet. Verity’s “visions” of that alternative life are also handled in such a way that the reader strongly feels their weirdness and they carry a considerable shock factor in the narrative. Earlier on in the story I found Verity’s present-day husband a little too gentle and calm and sympathetic, but later on we come to share some of his own turbulent feelings at the strange inner journey his wife is taking. I loved this quote near the end of the story: That’s what grief is. A little bit of us dies when our loved ones do. We go down into death with them while the grief endures. When the grief pales we return with what gifts our loved ones gave us in life. A very thoughtful and haunting novel.

5 stars

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About Vivienne Tuffnell

Vivienne is a writer, poet, explorer and mystic.

You can follow Vivienne on Twitter

or visit her blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodness, Kindness and Love Amidst Tragedy: Let Your Light Shine in the World

From out of the mouths of children…

Last week I took part in “Experience Church”, a special event for children in St Mark’s Church, Leamington Spa. Hand painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on altar steps of St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

 

The event was organised by Ros Davies our lovely and energetic Children and Family Worker. 130 Brownies and Guides toured four “stations” in our church, in groups of five or six.

 

The four stations were:

1) The Church Welcomes.

 

Table display saying "The Church Welcomes" in St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

2) The Church Prays.

 

Wooden cross with prayer flags St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

3) The Church Teaches.

"The Church Teaches" display below pulpit St Mark's Church Leamington Spa

4) The Church Serves.

Hand-painted jamjars and lighted candles on black cloth in church

My daughter Abigail and I were in charge of the Stained Glass station – The Church Serves.

We asked the girls why churches have stained glass windows and what the purpose of them is, then we talked about some of the stories that are told in the windows, and the people in those stories, and the lives they led;  people who serve God in this life by “shining a light” in the way they behave to others. Then the girls painted jam-jars with glass paints and we set them on the altar steps in front of lighted candles so we could see the light shining through them.Hand-painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on altar steps of church

So first we asked the girls, “has anyone been kind and generous to you in the last few days – or today?”

One of the girls  said her friend had stood up for her; another said her mum gave her some sweets, and another mentioned that her older sister is kind to her. We also heard, “all the people in my school. I’ve just moved to a new school and they have all made me feel really welcome.” And the other two said, “Yes!” because they were in her group at school and were among those who had welcomed her. And with every act of kindness, a light shines out into the world.

Light is a strong symbol in the Christian faith as in others.Hand-painted jamjars in front of lighted candles on black cloth in church

People who are kind and generous to others may be described as shining a light in the world. Images of light are abundant in the Old and in the New Testament. One of the many names by which Jesus is known is The Light of the World. When a tragedy happens with mass fatalities, the instinct of all of us, religious or non-religious, is to light a candle for those souls who have perished.

I don’t believe we should equate darkness with evil, but unfortunately there is a strong symbolic correlation in the popular mind. Nevertheless, light is something we can all relate to. We see a light shining through people who act with goodness in this world.

In the recent appalling tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we saw people in the local community acting with goodness, kindness and generosity; a natural outpouring of empathy and a desire to serve.

Through these people, a light shone out into a situation of immense and ongoing pain and anguish.

What about you? Who has been kind and generous to you today, or in the past few days?

 

 

If you have enjoyed this post, here are a couple of my past posts on the subject of light:

The Power of Light to Uplift the Spirit

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

 

 

 

 

 

People of Inspiration Part 8: Dan and Phillipa Munday, Helping the People of Nepal

Today’s post is number 8 in my series People of Inspiration (see below for links to my other posts in the series). Phillipa and Dan Munday in Nepal 2017Today I am inspired by two people who represent loving service to others, regardless of any artificial boundary that divides the people of this world.

Dan and Phillipa Munday are two mission partners from Warwick, near where I live, who have been sent by the CMS (Church Mission Society) to work in Nepal. Phillipa teaches in the Khathmandu International Study Centre (KISC) – a school which takes children age 3-18 – and Dan is a palliative care  specialist who has been helping the Nepalese government and medical profession to start and develop a service in their country to support those suffering from terminal illnesses who are nearing the end of their lives.

Map of NepalDuring their stay in the UK now for a few weeks, Dan keeps up the hours of acccreditation he needs, serving in our local hospice, Myton Hospice in Warwick.

I have known Dan and Phillipa as members of our church for nineteen years. They’re currently in England visiting family and talking to different groups of people about Nepal and their lives and work there. They spoke to our own small group one evening a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve now heard Phillipa speaking again today.

The reason why they both inspire me is  because everything they do is rooted in love for others, regardless of their backgrounds, religion, gender, or any other artificial boundary that divides people.Yak_near_shrine_in_Nepal

Whilst in Nepal, Dan and Phillipa are serving others in every way they can. They have numerous opportunities to be “Salt and light” in the lives of others; Phillipa might find herself offering a listening ear and loving support to a young schoolgirl who has already been made to enter an arranged marriage; Dan might find himself visiting someone in a remote village who is suffering a painful terminal disease, with no specialist support or medical help at all.people in rural village in Nepal

Read more about Dan and Phillipa’s work here, and about the KISC, and also about Dan’s work in developing palliative care in Nepal.

If you’ve enjoyed this post you might like to check out my other posts in this series, People of Inspiration. You’ll find that I’m inspired by a diverse range of public figures, but now my people of inspiration may be branching out into other areas. Watch this blog for further articles in my People of Inspiration series, which is paralleled by another series, Places of Inspiration.

People of Inspiration

1: Paul McCartney

2: Rabbi Lionel Blue

3: Susan Boyle

4: Rob Parsons

5: Frankie Howerd

6: Gareth Malone

7: The Horrible Histories Cast

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Full Monty and What it Says About Not Being Controlled by Your Circumstances

Recently I watched the 1997 British comedy drama film  “The Full Monty” again. The Full Monty film posterThe reason why I love it is that it’s about “little” people deciding not to be controlled by their circumstances. Six men who in their different ways are suffering during the decline of the Sheffield steel industry, decide to do something nobody believes they can deliver on.

If you haven’t seen this wonderful film then I highly recommend it; read about it here. Somehow that message of hope is encapsulated in one of the outstanding elements of the film: the faces of the audience members in the club at the end. They express joy, laughter, fun and delight. Their reaction is a natural response to “local lads” demonstrating that if we choose, we can all have the courage to:

  1. compete with those who seem to be hugely successful “out there”
  2. get up on stage and run the risk of making fools of ourselves
  3. demonstrate that we will not allow ourselves to be controlled by our circumstances.

This is a universal message, relevant in so many different ways in today’s society. This is why “The Full Monty” is an inspiration to its audiences and why, using humour, it delivers a powerful truth, relevant to all our lives.

Creative Artists: In the Minority, and On the Outside Looking In

Today on Radio 4, whilst stuck in slow-moving traffic due to an accident on the M40,  I listened to the Midweek programme, in which Libby Purves interviewed four guests – Diana Moran, fitness expert; Jack Thorne, playwright; Dashni Morad, singer and presenter; and finally Omid Djalili, comedian and actor. For the purposes of today’s blog post, I was particularly interested in what Omid Djalili had to say.Omid Djalili

Talking about his own development into a highly successful comedian and actor,  he made the point that throughout his life he has always felt, on every level, part of a minority within another minority… and so on. That has informed his comedy.

I loved him in the film The Infidel when he explored questions of identity as well as the boundaries and prejudices between two major world faiths, Islam and Judaism. He was brilliant in his role of a man who had been brought up an East End Muslim then discovered he was adopted, and really a Jew.

The point he was making in the Radio 4 programme related to the topic of one of the chapters in my new book Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, in which I explore the feelings of someone else highly successful in the arts; this time, a bestselling author. And I feel there is a close connection between being in the minority in a minority, and feeling as if you’re always on the outside looking in.

The author in question is Howard Jacobson and he made his remarks in another radio interview, just after he’d won the Man Booker Prize.Howard Jacobson

Here’s that chapter, a taster from my new book:

ALWAYS ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: WHAT DOES A BESTSELLING NOVELIST HAVE TO TEACH ASPIRING WRITERS?

I was listening to a bestselling novelist (Howard Jacobson) speaking on the radio about his success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, I was most impressed by the answer he gave to this question:

 “Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”

And he replied,  “No. I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.”

What a wonderful response the interviewer received to this question! And it seemed to me an authentic writer’s response. As observers of human life, this is what creative writers spend their lives doing. Often whilst researching for novels, we are on the outside looking in. We do not necessarily wish to ‘get involved’ or ‘drawn in’, although there are times when we must ‘come alongside’ those we observe, in order to truly understand.

This is especially true of those on spiritual journeys. To be a traveller on this path, you need an open mind and an open heart, and must be prepared to go anywhere and come in on anything. This does mean exploring other spiritual outlooks, other worldviews. This should be no contradiction to a spiritual traveller, whatever religion they belong to. As Rabbi Lionel Blue discovered, ‘my religion is my spiritual home not my spiritual prison’.

The great mystics have transcended religious boundaries in order to experience the presence of God beyond them all. So, how can we always be outsiders looking in? Or is it sometimes necessary to get involved, and come alongside? I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is, in fact, never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material. Novelist Margaret Drabble remarked that fiction writers are good at ‘turning personal humiliations and losses into stories … they recycle and sell their shames, they turn grit into pearls’.

I am particularly fascinated by group dynamics. And in order to learn about those you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can still feel they are always on the outside looking in.

 

 

 

 

A Passionate Spirit and The Cult That Stole Children

A couple of years after I left university, whilst on a spiritual search, I went to a lecture at the Royal Overseas League in London, met, chatted to and  became captivated by an inspirational speaker: a Physics professor who wrote spiritual books. His name was Dr Raynor Johnson.

a-pool-of-reflections-by-dr-raynor-johnsonSubsequently I read and loved all his books, beginning with his latest: “A Pool of Reflection”. I later wrote him a letter, to which he responded with a very kind and encouraging reply from his home at Santiniketan, Ferny Creek, Melbourne Australia.

Santiniketan later became notorious as the first premises Raynor Johnson made available for the use of the then beautiful and charismatic  Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the cult leader, and where she gave her spiritual talks, and started to gather her followers.  At the time, of course, I had no knowledge of this.

I wrote about him and about the cult with which his name has now become ineradicably linked in this blog post: The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader. I also used the story of the cult in my novel  A Passionate Spirit (pub. Matador 2015).

This cult is particularly relevant to my interests in writing A Passionate Spirit, because of the way in which the cult leader uses beauty and charisma to win devoted followers, whom she then indoctrinates with her teachings; and the cult preys upon the young and the vulnerable.  In addition the cult won the support of many intellectuals and people occupying high professional positions. It is a case which is of vital fascination to a writer of psychological thrillers and suspense.

Later I was contacted by journalist Chris Johnston, who has published articles about the cult in  The Age, Melbourne and in the Sydney Morning Herald. He wanted to make reference to my experiences, and to quote from my blog post, in a book he was writing about the cult.

You can watch the story of this cult on BBC TV tonight Tuesday 29 November 2016 in a documentary called:  “Storyville: The Cult That Stole Children.” It is being broadcast at 9pm.

M paranormal thriller novel A Passionate Spirit inspired these remarks from a Net Galley reviewer, CE Gray:  “as Natasha and James started to take hold of both the centre, and the people within it, the story picked up pace and for me became a page turner. I needed to know, were there supernatural forces at work? Was Zoe imagining it? Were Natasha and James just fraudsters? Was this a story about a cult?

I was pulled in, hook, line and sinker, picking up my kindle at every opportunity to find out what happened next and the end was not disappointing.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in cults, the supernatural and thrillers in general.

What I especially loved were the author’s notes at the end, talking about her inspirations for the novel, including the Australian cult, The Family, which sent me scurrying off to the google for an hour after I’d finished the book. A great read.

A Passionate Spirit is available to buy online and in bookshops.

Thrilling Holiday Reading: Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit

Looking for gripping novels to fill up your ereader with?A PASSIONATE SPIRIT COVER DESIGN  as used on Matador web page

Want to while away the time at the airport?

Include A Passionate Spirit on your holiday reading list.

If you like thrillers with  more than a touch of the paranormal this is for you!

Janice an Amazon reviewer, took A Passionate Spirit on holiday with her and says I loved it, I was hooked from the very beginning, the characters got inside my head, and I couldn’t put the book down. I was really very surprised at how spooked I felt considering I was on  a sunny beach in Tenerife very far removed from the Cotswolds. Thank you for a great read.

Mystical Circles 2nd edition book cover image 688 by 1000 pixelsAnd why not also download Mystical Circles?

If you do, I suggest you read Mystical Circles first because it may add more depth to the background of some of the characters.

Sue W, an Amazon reviewer, has read both books, and says:  This is something that I like in a book series – being reintroduced to characters at a different point in their lives, without a specific cross reference to the first story. …A Passionate Spirit provokes the reader into reflecting on the motivations of the characters. One that particularly fascinated me was James – remembering him from Mystical Circles, I found myself wondering about how he would have got from his life then, to his life now…. another way of saying that the character was believable in himself and not just a plot device…

But Sue does add that the two books could be read in any order and would still be enjoyable.Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit by SC SkillmanEnjoy your holidays… and happy reading!

“Inner Child” Faces Down “the Perpetrators” at Constellations Therapy Workshop at Hayes Conference Centre

The most powerful workshop I took part in at the conference “Continuing the Journey: Rummaging for Reality” last week was a constellations therapy group run by a therapist who specialises in working with people who have suffered spiritual, satanic and sexual abuse.continuing-the-journey-home Approximately 12 of us took the part of various ‘voices’ in the client’s brain (identity confidential of course). The client had herself, over a long, and painstakingly slow process with the therapist, identified and written down the words spoken by the voices in her head. She had given permission for the therapist to use this material in her workshop with us – and was hoping to benefit from our experience with it.

We all took different roles – in this case, the names of the roles included Me, Body, Sexuality, Inner Child, Anger, Faith, Church, Priest, Nuns, Uncle (the last 4 named roles were all perpetrators). I took the role of Inner Child. As we read out our scripts, and then started to move around in relation to each other, inside the client’s brain, we decided how to interact with each other, and what we needed in order to progress and make changes.  As the workshop progressed, each one of us entered into our roles so strongly we were no longer using scripts. The whole thing became dynamic, and compelling.  I found myself, as Child, being strengthened and supported by Anger; together we were able to challenge and weaken the lies of the perpetrators.  I don’t think anyone who took part in that workshop is likely to forget it for a very long time! I heard different members of the group describing it to others afterwards as “stunning.” For a while during the rest of the conference, when I looked at each person, I found myself thinking of them as the role they had been playing.

I wondered at one point how this experience might play into my fiction. I then realised that even if I were to create fictional characters based upon these different voices in the client’s brain, I would not be able to replicate what happened in the group. For each voice / character needs to be fully rounded in fiction; even if someone is a ‘perpetrator’ and has done terrible thing to a vulnerable victim, we would have to see why that character has behaved in this way. We would need to look into their own childhood, their own background, and would need to understand them from the inside as well as the outside. That we were not in a position to do, within the circumstances of the constellation therapy group.  All I knew was that the voices of the perpetrators had to be faced down.

How this will impact upon my new novel, I cannot yet say as it will take time to process!

 

The Creative Power of an Intense Group of People in the Hothouse Environment of a Writers Retreat

Mystical Circles by SC Skillman
Mystical Circles by SC Skillman

I’ve now finished my series of Cave posts as new inspiration has intervened!

One of my fellow bloggers Lance Greenfield has just opened up thoughts of writers retreats by reblogging this post on the subject by Max Dunbar. Lance then went on to ask his own followers for their responses to Max’s thoughts, and whether it would be worthwhile for him to go on one of the many writers’ courses or retreats that are available here in the UK.

Part of my inspiration for my novel Mystical Circles was an Arvon Foundation poetry course which I attended at Totleigh Barton farmhouse in Devon. My fellow poets that week reflected the wide variety of characters to be found at a writers’ retreat in the UK – and in the story of Mystical Circles.  Among these you may find – alongside whatever idiosyncracies you yourself may bring – several complex personalities; and your interactions with others, and your observations, form an inexhaustible source for a writer. And I believe it’s vital to write about people, no matter how deeply flawed, with love and empathy, never in a detached or critical spirit.

Below I list some of my favourite plays, books and films which have achieved this:

Unnatural Causes by PD James (detective novel set in a literary community)

Peter’s Friends (film directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring  Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie)

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh (brilliantly developed and improvised by playwright and actors and first broadcast by the BBC in 1977)

Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw (a group of people are invited to one of Hesione Hushabye’s infamous dinner parties, to be held at the house of her father, the eccentric Captain Shotover)

If you’re fascinated by group dynamics and it’s relevant to what you’re writing, then a writers retreat – a small group of intense people in a hothouse atmosphere – may be ideal for you!

 

 

The Psychology of Mother and Son in the Psycho Prequel “Bates Motel”

My daughter Abigail, Creative Media Production student, has recently completed a project on Alfred Hitchcock’s editing technique in Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho

So I’ve watched Psycho again several times recently. And my fascination with the subject led me to pick up the books Abigail had gathered for her project, and read them myself. Editing techniques in film can of course be applied to fiction writing too; what you choose to show, and the way you cut it together, can play a vital role in creating an emotional response in the audience. Hitchcock was the master of this, and profoundly influenced the history of film with his genius.

Over the last week we’ve been watching the DVDs of the US TV series Bates Motel, which is a prequel to the events of Psycho, set in the contemporary world, and showing how Norman developed to become the figure Anthony Perkins so famously portrayed in Hitchcock’s 1960 film.

We’ve now watched 6 episodes of Bates Motel in which the young Norman is played brilliantly by Freddie Highmore, (who looks like a young Anthony Perkins); his mother Norma is played by Vera Farmiga; and an additional character Norman’s older brother Dylan, is played by Max Thierot.

This is the most discerning portrayal of dysfunctional family dynamics. As a writer of psychological suspense fiction myself I cannot help but be mesmerised by the skill with which Norman’s early life is portrayed, and by the clarity and focus with which it accounts for Norman’s behaviour in Psycho. The series is highly focussed in what it says about unhealthy mutually-interdependent relationships, in this case, between a mother and son.

IN particular Vera Farmiga as Norma is outstanding, as she portrays the toxic mix of Norma’s psychological make-up. We watch mesmerised as the pace of events, and the choices she makes, precipitate her into rapid changes between being over-affectionate, unreasonable, controlling, proud and hard, aggressive and emotionally manipulative. Finely blended into this mix, we find flashes of callous indifference, mental cruelty and martyr complex, as she puts guilt on Norman.

Dylan, the older brother is an inspired addition to the gallery of characters, one whom we didn’t see in Psycho. In Bates Motel he represents normality. As he says about Norma: “She’s always got a drama, and she always will. She’s like an addict. And when you have an addict in your life the best thing you can do for them is walk away from them…” “You’ve just got to get away from mum,” he says to younger brother Norman. “She’s just going to bring you down with her.” How prophetic of the events in Psycho.

And as you follow the twists and turns of the plot, you see how Norma has a talent for creating alternative scenarios when things go wrong, which serves only to complicate things further and make them far worse.

Dylan tries to persuade her to “stop making up stories”. As you watch the drama, you just long for Norman to accept Dylan’s offer to leave his mother and go to live with Dylan instead. You start to persuade yourself that this could be the vital moment of choice, when, if Norman had taken this step, he might have been saved from the tragedy and horror of the future as presented in Psycho.

And yet you still can’t help thinking: would that help? How would Dylan deal with Norman’s mental health problem? Would Norman end up killing Dylan instead?

If you’re at all interested in the psychological suspense/thriller genre, do get hold of the DVDs of “Bates Motel” and see for yourself!