Archives For dreams

‘Hope’ is an invigorating word that should be high in every writer’s lexicon. Hope that an agent, then a publisher, then the reading public will like their story. ‘Belief’ is another sustaining word. Belief that after countless hours at a desk that same agent, publisher, and public will indeed revel in the story woven from the writer’s research and imagination.

I have been working on a novel which was to be the first of a trilogy – the second and third are written and published – Fireburn and Transfer. Thank you, OC Publishing, and thank you for believing in me enough to agree to publish the next – with a working title of Emancipation. A hopeful title. It was only later, when I envisaged three spines standing side by side that I realised they would read EFT which, depending on how one’s mind works, could be either a juvenile newt or an electronic funds transfer. Neither very catchy for a boxed set, but I hoped readers would get over that.

Emancipation started with the Portuguese royal family’s arrival in Brazil after fleeing Napoleon’s encroaching army. It told how Anna Clausen’s grandfather accompanied the Prince Regent to Rio and how, as a consequence, he came into his fortune which, in turn, lead to Anna’s Fancy, his sugar plantation on St Croix in the Danish West Indies. It was a hopeful book because it revolved around the ‘rightness’ of emancipation. On reflection, I should have called the book Manumission. I don’t think there is an anagram for MFT.

The title is however a moot point.

I knew I could write about freedom. I know I can write about violence. What I hadn’t realised was that I would struggle to write about sustained cruelty. Graham Greene said that in order to write dispassionately, “A writer must be able to retain a splinter of ice in the heart.” Barry Unsworth in Sacred Hunger was able to delve into the tragedy of slavery and write a riveting book. Marlon James did the same in The Book of Night Women. Whilst not putting myself into the same lofty realms of either author, I have found that Apple Gidley cannot retain that splinter on certain subjects. Part of me is pleased. I don’t want to become inured to horror.

My books are character driven. As I research, characters form. Their backstory becomes part of the plot in minute ways. For example, Anna’s favourite colour is yellow because it reminds her of the glow of the Caribbean sun, or the centre of a white frangipani, and it brings her joy. The character’s foibles, their idiosyncrasies, make them real to me and, hopefully, the reader.

Every story needs tension, so not all characters have to be likable but I have to care about the majority of them. The coffee mat on my desk, courtesy of my son, reads, “Please do not annoy the writer, she may put you in a book and kill you.” It’s true. I had great pleasure killing off Anna’s husband, Carl, in Fireburn, but I can’t murder everybody – I’d be writing slasher novels and not historical fiction. 

And that brings me back to hope. Emancipation was truly a time of hope but the more I wrote the less hopeful I felt. That could be a product of what is happening in America today. I’ve been immersed in writing about the issues of racial inequality 200 years ago, and here we are in 2020 seeing how relatively little has changed and it has made me sick to my stomach. I am well aware I’m not alone in that feeling. An email from an African American friend has been churning in my head the last couple of days. After the outrage in Minneapolis he asked, “Where is God when you need him?” He then asked me to excuse his rage. He is indeed a gracious man, always, but particularly in the face of current events when hope seems hard to come by.

That all sounds pretentious. I don’t mean to be. The Swiss-born, British philosopher, Alain de Botton, says “The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.” I was at the despair stage.

So, this morning I wrote to my publisher and said Emancipation is no more. Then I filed all my research notes and put away reference books that have been stacked on my desk, sticky tags in varying colours forming a frill on each book. Usually the process makes me a little sad. A year invested in my characters, my imagination, shelved, but today I felt relief. 

I have failed in a way but hope is once again returning to my lexicon because now, as I think of Langston Hughes’ words, I am smiling at the thought of the next book to be written.

"Hold fast to dreams, 
For if dreams die 
Life is a broken-winged bird, 
That cannot fly.” 

Words we should hold close in these seemingly hopeless and difficult times.

I had a dream from which I was rudely woken by the dog barking. Clyde has different barks for different threats. A marauding cat produces a breathless swallowed woof. An unknown human, particularly anywhere near the doors or in the garden, allows him an entirely more threatening tenor of which his humans take notice. Last night it was the former.

As I was jerked from sleep the flash of a dream came with me. I was in a dim music room leaning against a grand piano, notepad and pen in hand, watching in awe as Pavarotti played and sang. He glanced up and, as the last notes swayed in the air, he smiled. Ignoring the dog and the perceived violation of the his territory, I stumbled to my desk and, in the half light, wrote on a scrap of paper, ‘interviewing Pav – questions I wish I’d asked’. 

I should probably now mention I never interviewed Luciano Pavarotti. Neither did he play the piano, although there is no doubting the greatness of his voice – he was not known as the ‘King of the High C’s’ for nothing. I have always admired him, and do have a number of his CDs – one of my favorites being his Neapolitan songs, of which O Sole Mio is one. Possibly not for the Maestro’s prowess but because I have an evocative memory of my son singing it in the shower whilst on a canal boat cruising across the Yorkshire Dales. The Italian might not have been perfect. Actually, it wasn’t even Italian but words made up to fit the tune and sung with great operatic verve by a six-year-old.

But back to Luciano and why I was dreaming about him. A final glass of rum before bed might have contributed to the vividness of the dream, even though it was monochromatic, down to the white handkerchief he used to mop his brow as he finished playing. As I sipped I had watched a 2013 performance of Nessun Dorma purported to be sung by Pavarotti’s granddaughter, Sislena Caparrosa, on a Spanish talent show. It was a breathtaking performance by a fifteen-year-old, but The Luciano Pavarotti Foundation assured that she was no relation to the great man. 

Be that as it may it provoked a question. Pavarotti was a man of large appetites – witness the bacchanalian feast celebrating his 70th birthday with scantily clad wenches in red costumes.

“Luciano,” because in my dream we seemed to be on familiar terms, “I ask this not from some voyeuristic desire to delve into your private life but from an earnest hope there is another Pavarotti voice for future generations to enjoy. DNA, as it were, passed to another generation, as your father’s voice was passed to you.” I pause here, gathering my courage. “So, Luciano, is it in the realms of possibility that you have a granddaughter, the byproduct of a union not documented in your biography?”

If he throws back his head and laughs, I’m okay. Then I’d ask him why he pissed off various opera houses by withdrawing from performances at the last moment enough times to earn another title, ‘The King of Cancellations’. 

“I ask in relation to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, under the directorship of Ardis Krainik, severing their long relationship with you, banning you for life from performing there again. Why, Luciano, why? It would seem such a snub to your myriads of fans.”

And finally, because even I can sense I am beginning to teeter on the edge of his humour and patience, I ask my last question, “I know you told Jeremy Paxman in that 2005 interview for the BBC that you could read music despite allegations to the contrary, but why did you never learn to read orchestral scores? Was it arrogance?”

If the great man growls at the temerity of my question and throws the hanky at me, the interview is over and I will be tossed from the music room with no chance of ever having a private concert again.

I will pick up my notepad and pen, dropped in the roar of his rage, and stagger into the daylight, cursing the day I dreamt of Pavarotti and believed I had the gall to question him. To never have the opportunity to hear him play and sing solely for me. O Sole Mio, the sunshine will have dimmed a little.

My dream did though provoke an interesting take on future interviews – questions I wish I’d asked! My next will be with Jane Austen.

Addenda: Thanks to Chris Lusignan for sending me a link to Pavarotti’s true granddaughter – María Cristina Crucian. My first question is now declared null and void – DNA rules. This little girl has a remarkable voice, just like her grandpa!