I love catching glimpses of an author’s personal journey in their fiction prose. Here are a few from Kate Fortsyth’s new book, Bitter Greens.
Firstly, the debate between literary and popular fiction. There is, of course, no answer and no end to this one. But as a librarian and one who has also read the Old Testament I would have to say. There is a time and a place for everything under heaven.
It was our passion for words and our ardent desire to write that drew me and Michael together, and the same that drove us apart.
Michael wanted to be a great playwright, like the former master Molière. He had high ambitions and scorned what I wrote as frivolous and feminine.
‘All these disguises and duels and abductions,’ he said contemptuously, one day a year or so after our affair began, slapping down the pile of paper covered with my sprawling handwriting. ‘All these desperate love affairs. And you wish me to take you seriously.’
‘I like disguises and duels.’ I sat bolt upright on the edge of my bed. ‘Better than those dreary boring plays you write. At least something happens in my stories.’
‘At least my plays are about something.’
‘My stories are about something too. Just because they aren’t boring doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy.’
‘What are they about? Love’ He clasped his hands together near his ear and fluttered his eyelashes.’
‘Yes, love. What’s wrong with writing about love? Everyone longs for love.’
‘Aren’t there enough love stories in the world without adding to them?
‘Isn’t there enough misery and tragedy?’
Michael snorted with contempt.
‘What’s wrong with wanting to be happy?
‘It’s sugary and sentimental.’
‘Sugary? I’m not sugary.’ I was so angry that I hurled my shoes at his head.
Next, the early years of a writer’s life. I think anyone who has ever wanted to write will recognise these sentiments:
Words. I had always loved them. I collected them, like I had collected pretty stones as a child. I liked to roll words over my tongue like a lump of molten honeycomb, savouring the sweetness, the crackle, the crunch. Cerulean, azure, blue. Shadowy, sombre, secret. Voluptuous, sensuous, amorous. Kiss, hiss, abys.
Some words sounded dangerous. Pagan. Tiger.
Some words seemed to shine. Crystal. Glissade.
Some words changed their meaning as I grew older. Ravishing.
Finally, a sense of vocation. The whole big messy mystery of the writing process:
Each word was shaped with certainty, and I felt, more strongly than ever before in my life, that I had at last found my true path. I knew the story would change as I told it. No one can tell as tory without transforming it in some way; it is part of the magic of storytelling. Like the troubadors of the past, who hid their messages in poems, songs and fairy tales, I too would hide my true purpose [ … ]
It was by telling stories that I would save myself.
Bitter Greens was a great read. Look out for my review in the Historical Novels Review.