I swear one of these days I’ll do an actual post. Until then: welcome to my laziness.
In the lead up to the US release of See What I Have Done I was lucky enough to chat with Carolyn Hutton as part of the Indies Introduce Q & A series.
Every time I do one of these I find I struggle to truly explain my approach to the book in a way that is ‘satisfying’ mainly because the act of analysing what was once intuition feels too much like questioning magic. Some thing’s can’t be explained. But that’s the deal you make when you create something and it’s born. And so I will talk and talk. Happily.
Here’s an extract from the interview. READ MORE HERE
CH: You move the story forward with four very distinct voices, all in first-person, each one unique and very well-developed. How did you manage to inhabit and write from such different perspectives?
SS: The short answer is a lot of false starts and an inability to focus! I began with Lizzie and learned fairly quickly that she was incapable of telling her story in a way that would be satisfying or complete. I became so frustrated and infuriated with Lizzie when I wrote her that I couldn’t bear to be in her head for long periods of time. I needed an out.
The next two narrators I came up with were Benjamin and The House, and again I found these narrators were just as selective as Lizzie. The more frustrated I became, the more narrators I dragged into the whole debacle, so that’s how we get to hear from Emma and Bridget. Initially I wanted the feeling that although they might have been operating against each other, they were essentially connected and without one we couldn’t have a whole. But it was also my inability to be with one character for any sustained period; I would be OK for a few weeks or months but then I needed a break to go and be with one of the others for a while. In the first few years it was hard to remember where I was in the story at any given time, and I realized each narrator needed to concentrate on telling just a few parts of the story. By doing this, I also got to know them as people, which helped build their voice and perspective.
CH: The Bordens’ house is a character in your book—the creaking floors, the ticking clock, the different bedrooms with their own hidden secrets. Did you visit the Borden house in Fall River, Massachusetts, as part of your research for the book?
SS: As I mentioned earlier, the house was a narrator in the novel right up until the final year before publication, and, in the end, I swapped it out for Bridget’s narrative. But the house had made its presence felt throughout the other narratives as well and was more effective that way. I really liked the idea of a house knowing far more than anyone else and having the ability to make its occupants feel a particular way. I can become a little fixated on setting!
Because the house was a narrator I wanted to know its history, when it was “born,” who lived in it before the Bordens moved in. So I did a quick Google search and that’s how I discovered that not only does the original house still stand, but it is actually a fully functioning bed and breakfast. I knew then that I had to visit.
I slept a couple of nights in Lizzie’s bedroom and it was one of the best/worst writing experiences of my life. The house was everything and nothing like I thought it would be. Being in that house allowed me to think of the Bordens in a different context. You stay in that house long enough, you start to feel like you live there, start to let it dominate you. It was exactly what I needed to write this book.
CH: With such an intense subject matter and characters, was it difficult to separate yourself from the story and the personalities and be present in your “real” life?
SS: I’ll be honest: Sometimes it was almost impossible to separate myself. This novel took 11 years to write, and I thought about it every single day. The characters consumed me; they constantly visited me in dreams. If I was in the middle of a particularly intense writing period, I’d find it really difficult to step out of it and talk to people around me. But this is natural when you spend hours inside your own head. Eventually you have to return to the real world and be a productive citizen. You can’t keep serving your book whenever it wants you to, but it’s hard to say no.
At work I’d be planning a program and all of sudden I’d think about rotting fruit or something Lizzie had said and I’d just stop what I was doing and begin to jot down novel notes. I shouldn’t admit this publicly but every now and then I’d schedule a work meeting—with the manuscript—and I’d go write for 40 minutes to an hour just so I could get it out onto the page and actually concentrate on my job.
Sometimes the subject matter was too much, and many times I thought about chucking it all and beginning work on something else. But the alternative wasn’t any better. I don’t write happy stories; so I figured I might as well stick with the Bordens. Besides, other writers deal with far heavier stuff than I do and they don’t quit.
But I’m making it sound like it was hard going all the time and that I was a complete and utter obsessive. It wasn’t, and I wasn’t. I was aware that writing is a choice; no one forces you to do it.