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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rummaging For Reality at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick

Here I am, a psychological suspense writer,  at a conference for psychotherapists, healers, counsellors and creative people – and together with them  I am rummaging for reality.

This is  very brief post in a spare hour before I go off to a workshop this afternoon. But already I feel I am working my way towards a new clarity and insight both into this life and into my new novel.  One came this morning. It was very simple: only these words: “We are exploring different parts of the same reality at different stages of our lives.”

A few days before coming on this conference I was doing some of my own rummaging, through a file of newspaper clips which I’ve kept for about 3 decades now – just to see what jumped out at me in my current situation, a new work-in-progress before me.

 

And it was an article from the Sunday Times 10/5/92 written by the novelist Wendy Perriam called ‘Heaven Can Wait’. It was subtitled Do bad Catholics make good writers? And considered the fact that many great writers – e.g. Greene, Joyce, Spark, Waugh, O’Brien and Lodge – either lapsed, or struggling with their faith, poured out words as once they poured out prayers.

In this article Wendy Perriam says many things which touch me profoundly, despite the fact that I am not a Catholic, present or lapsed. I’ll quote just one point here, which I resonate with, and which shone out at me from my ‘rummaging’:

 

‘A sense of religion does give a depth and resonance to fiction, and if our characters have immortal souls, they’re surely more important, more valuable to their creator, than if they’re regarded as mere accumulations of vibrating molecules.’

Hopefully I may have some more insights from my rummaging to share with you in next week’s post!

 

Words From A Cave – Part 1

merlin-cave
Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel

I had a hip operation last Tuesday, and am now recovering at home. It’s difficult living with reduced functionality, relying on crutches and a cocktail of drugs. The best metaphor I can think of to describe my emotional well-being is that of living in a cave. I’ve always been in good health and this is something new for me. I’m learning how to re-think all the most ordinary things that we take for granted during our daily lives. And I’m learning to ask other people for help instead of maintaining my hold on independence, thus bringing out new caring skills in those closest to me. I hope the next few weeks will be a time of creative thinking. I will post the fruits of this over the next few weeks. Thank you for your loyalty!

Two Excellent BBC Drama Offerings: Wolf Hall and A Casual Vacancy

Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC's The Casual Vacancy
Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy

We’ve recently seen two very good dramatizations on BBC TV: Wolf Hall, and The Casual Vacancy.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC's Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall

The casting was brilliant, particularly Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and Michael Gambon as Howard in The Casual Vacancy.

You may think think the two novels on which these dramatisations were based, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, could hardly be more different; one story set in the sixteenth century Tudor Court, and the other in our contemporary society. And yet I found striking points of similarity.

In the world in which the two novels are set, we see how central tribalism is to human nature. The historians I have read on the subject of the Tudor Court have emphasised how everything revolved around factions. In Thomas Cromwell’s world he had to navigate the changing fortune of the factions: when the Boleyn faction was in the ascendancy, he advanced the cause of Anne Boleyn; but when the Seymour faction  began to gain the upper hand, it was politic for Thomas to bring about Anne’s downfall to make way for Jane Seymour. After all, in that “dog eats dog” world his own life was always at stake.

In The Casual Vacancy we see how the wealthy and privileged, in our most favoured and idyllic villages, gather together and dominate the local council and influence decisions about the local community in their own favour, so that the poor and marginalised are separated from them even further. JK Rowling is showing us something of how this same principle of tribalism, is replicated in English society today:how members of one group gather together to increase their power over the other: those who consider themselves socially ‘superior’ cluster together and fend off those who are perceived as failures, the socially dysfunctional.

Humans are tribal and we see this in every sphere of our lives.

In today’s western societies we might not turn to genocide and massacres of the kind we have seen in other countries of the world in the past few decades, because our ‘veneer of civilisation’ is still strong enough to prevail; but we are certainly capable of expressing the same dark undercurrents in our hearts and minds, by using other, more subtle methods, to achieve similar ends. The same tribalism is there, deeply rooted in our psyches.

Click here and here to find my own reviews of both books.