One moonless night, when her daughter was but a few months old, Eve clawed back her silken baby skin and planted a bomb in her chest. It wasn’t as difficult as you’d imagine; a baby’s body is more malleable than an adult’s. Getting under her daughter’s skin was rather like peeling an orange. Or picking at the flap of a sealed envelope to slip an extra something inside.
It was only a small bomb, the size and shape of a button battery, albeit large in relation to her daughter. It was bigger, for example, than her daughter’s dainty fingernails, bigger than the snub of her nose. But, like a school uniform, the child would grow into it, grow until the bomb was eclipsed by the face of her wristwatch or an ornament she might hang from her ear.
As described in my post planning for pantsers, the short story provided a firm foundation from which to outline the novel and I completed the first draft fairly fast. But I haven’t gone back to it to produce a second draft. In fact, I thought I’d abandoned the project altogether when I transferred one of the themes (which isn’t so prominent in the short story) into Snowflake, the dystopian novel I began earlier this year.
But working with an editor to ready the short story for publication – thank you Peter Coles for a rare luxury for fiction published online – revived my interest in the stillborn novel it spawned. I was particularly excited by editorial comments that sparked other possible interpretations of the “bomb” than the one I’d originally had in mind. Could I build more ambiguity into the novel that, rather than confusing readers, would widen its appeal?
Structurally, the longer story unfolds through alternate chapters from the mother’s and daughter’s points of view. Eve’s strand starts with an event that cements her desire to have a baby and continues through her denial of the difficulties of single motherhood and her disappointment that her daughter isn’t the feisty female she was sure she’d become. Felicity’s strand begins with her reluctantly leaving home for university and the adjustment difficulties of her first year. I felt both of these had potential but both fell flat towards the end.
First I wondered if, while I had material beyond the short story, it wasn’t enough for a novel. What would it look like if I cut a lot of the latter chapters and positioned it as a novella?
But I also wondered if the structure was overly constraining, with alternate chapters from mother and child. What would it look like if I added a third perspective (triangles being considered more robust by both Kleinian psychoanalysts and structural engineers) and, rather than alternating them as in my possibly third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, they were nested within each other like Russian dolls?
Your response to my short story would help me enormously in deciding whether to take this forward and, if so, how. What does the story evoke in you and where, in your opinion, does it fall down? Is the whole thing too horrible, or too fanciful, or does it make you think? Whatever you make of it, I’d like to know!
Despite her diligence in tidying away her thoughts on retiring to bed, Matty awakes to a muddle. It is as if a kitten has whiskered its way into a sewing box and woven a cat’s cradle with the thread.
Opening her eyes, it is obvious something larger than a baby cat has caused the chaos. Has a magic carpet whooshed her to China? Or, like Alice, she’s fallen down a rabbit hole to a world where walls move and rooms shrink?
A maid beams at her from the bedpost. “Welcome to Tuke House, Matty! Are you ready for breakfast?”