The Carrot Ranch is on the move and, sadly, not by choice. Forced out of her home and on the road, Charli has nevertheless grabbed the reins for long enough to deliver another flash fiction challenge. Fittingly, the topic is home and she’s served up two brilliant examples from her own novels in progress. While a collection of 99-word stories might not provide the much-needed bricks and mortar, there’s a virtual round-the-campfire homeliness on her blog when writers ride up with our responses to the prompt.
The Gustav Sonata is one of the best novels I’ve read on the cause and effects of insecure attachment: when Gustav’s depressed mother is unable to give him the attention he requires as a baby, he grows up with a psychological deadness at his core that saps him of passion and all ambition other than to give others the comfort he has never had. But don’t be misled into thinking it’s a psychological case study; The Gustav Sonata is, above all else, a great feat of storytelling. It’s inspired me to persevere with my own attempts to foreground the theme of attachment, not only on Annecdotal (where you can find reviews of The Other Side of You, Hot Milk, My Name Is Lucy Barton, The Good Children and Her Father’s Daughter all of which, to varying degrees, illustrate the damage wrought by that inner homelessness, as well as other posts on the topic) but in my own fiction. And why not? It’s a theme that resonates for me strongly, both through my personal history and through my work as a clinical psychologist.
My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about an identity issue which I don’t share with my narrator, but it was partly inspired by an inner deadness of my own. I can’t claim to write as well as an Orange prize (and others) winner, but I was interested in the similarities between Gustav and Anton’s childhood game of life and death in the sanatorium and the morbid games my character, Diana, remembers playing as a child. I’m also claiming a link with my next novel, Underneath, in which my main character is, like Gustav, a fatherless boy with a depressed mother, whose inner homelessness is triggered by his partner’s threats to leave (although you can read it however you like, as long as you read it).
That fundamental insecurity has also featured in my short fiction over the years: from the child’s perspective in “Mummy and Me”, “All Night the Babby”, “Peace and Quiet Pancake” and “The Ruler in My Head”; from the perspective of the child-within-the-adult in “And the Winner Is”, “A Place of Safety”, “Had to Be You”, “My Father’s Love” and “Madonna and Child”(you have to flick through to page 12 to find this one). “Rebekah’s Foreskin” (click through to page 16) is about a mother’s trauma when her fear of causing pain to her baby is not taken sufficiently seriously by her relatives (as is often the case with attachment issues, even without the cultural context as in this story). My most recent flash fiction publication, “Out Of Her Element”, about how a perceived loss of security can lead to more perilous self-neglect, is disturbingly a BOTS (Based on a True Story).
Apologies for the plethora of links (you can attribute the deluded attempt to cover all bases as a consequence of insecure attachment) – you don’t need to follow them all. But I’m sharing partly because I’m wondering how I can take this theme to the next level in my writing. I’m still a long way from producing my own equivalent of The Gustav Sonata.
I’d got to this point in my post when I set it aside thinking I’d return to my flash in a couple of days’ time. But when I did, the shocking result of the EU referendum had numbed my brain. Insecurity is no friend of creativity, and I was feeling homeless in my own country with over half those who voted siding with a motion championed by the far Right. For those outside Europe, you’ll know what that feels like if you imagine waking up to discover your compatriots have elected Donald Trump.
Then I wondered if the homelessness I was feeling was similar to the estrangement felt by the 17 million citizens who voted to leave. “We want our country back” they said and, although it seems they were severely misguided in their attempts to get it (and, if a recent poll is to be believed, a million leave voters are already regretting it), I’ve known how that feels since the days of Thatcher government. We feel alienated when no-one in power speaks to our truth.
It’s sad that those who have suffered most from austerity seem to have voted for more. Although the data aren’t straightforward, if you’ve been following my reviews, you might not be surprised that it’s in those areas with the least educated populations that people have backed a campaign that was less about Europe than about fears of immigration and barely-suppressed racism, yet multicultural London voted to remain. Democracy requires an intellectually-engaged citizenship, something that diversity actually facilitates.
Since the government isn’t compelled to act on the result of the referendum, I’m still hoping that sanity will finally prevail. But, even if parliament votes against repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, we are heading for a period of tremendous upheaval. Many of those who voted to leave the EU will feel further disenfranchised if this fails to happen before they’ve changed their minds; whereas the 16 million of us who voted to stay need to be accommodated (some of these, perhaps, in an independent Scotland). And all this, not because Britain was hankering for a vote, but because David Cameron thought he could use the referendum to reconcile a split in his own party.
After so much preamble, I’m extra anxious about posting my own 99-word story in response to Charli’s prompt, but here goes:
At home on the tennis court?
The sound cuts through him, severing the sinews anchoring him to the present tense. He scans the park for the source of that plaintive cry.
“Fifteen-love.” The nurse looks baffled he missed such an easy shot. “Okay?”
He tries to blink himself back to the man who pantomimes serenity and sanity. Who stomachs a world where families are savaged for speaking the wrong language. Where mothers close the door on babies who scream what they themselves cannot endure.
Instead of leaving the court to find and console the baby, he grips the racquet tighter and focuses on the ball.
Don’t ask me how tennis slipped in, except that even I know it’s Wimbledon week. And, even if you don’t like my flash, you might enjoy listening to Paul Simon and friends.