These words could well have come from Matty, the main character of my WIP, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, but they actually belong to Mr A (as does this photo of nuns picnicking in the Forum in Rome). He knew of my character’s tragedy when he agreed to proofread my latest version in readiness to go to beta readers, but didn’t feel its emotional punch until towards the end. I’d better not give away my story’s secrets, but here’s how – at present – that scene is introduced:
For that part of the story, I drew on my general knowledge of the Magdalene laundries, a type of forced labour camp for unmarried mothers run by nuns. When I followed this up more recently (my back-to-front research method being to create first and fact-check later) with the book on which the film Philomena is based, I was shocked that, even into the twenty-first century, lies were told to keep mothers and their children apart.
I have to go further back in history for a less tragic version of convent life. I was enthralled by Sarah Dunant’s religious community in Renaissance Italy in which one woman’s deprivation could be another’s salvation. Although set in an earlier period, this helped create the setting of my short story The Invention of Harmony.
Charli has written about nuns this week, although the actual prompt is wider: to create a 99-word story featuring something black and white. Although the nuns in my images are blue, I think I’ve managed to meet the challenge:
Black and white choice?
My father’s gaze swept the ranks of spines. “You’ll have to give these up when you marry.”
I searched his face for signs of jocularity. Finding none, sweat gathered in my palms. “I cannot live without my books.”
“I’ve done you a disservice, daughter. Men don’t want an educated wife.”
“Then I shall not marry.”
“If only that were possible. But, when I die, you’ll lose both my protection and my wealth. You have no choice.”
I plucked a book from the shelf. Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica. “There’s another option.”
“Caged in a convent?”
“Where female minds run free.”