Welcome to this week’s blog hop. Today the topic is:
What are your favourite kind of characters to create and to read?
The characters I create and the characters I like to read about are very similar (unsurprisingly!). I read and write about people who have down-to-earth names, do down-to-earth things, and live in the same world as I do. Plots have to be realistic for my characters, who are ordinary people just like anyone else. Sometimes life throws them lemons and they have to try and make lemonade.
I’m most interested in what makes people act the way they do. I prefer to read psychological thrillers, and to write about dysfunctional family relationships. Perhaps I should have studied psychiatry, as I’m fascinated by how people’s childhood experiences affect the adults they become. When we’re young and we become parents, we don’t realise the burden of responsibility lying on our shoulders to produce an eventual free-thinking adult unencumbered by anxieties, hang-ups and … the most important one of all… to be free of anger (Philip Larkin was correct when he wrote that poem about how your parents f**k you up!). So many parents pass on their own hatred and anger to their children, and so you get the next generation already infused with somebody else’s dissatisfaction with their lot.
I think my book that most sums up my love of writing about dysfunctional families is ‘The Daughter-in-law Syndrome‘, which explores the husband/wife, mother/son, and mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. After twenty eight years of marriage, Arla, the daughter-in-law, is at the end of her tether and persuades a reluctant Ric to accompany her for marriage guidance. As they look back over their lives with Counsellor Toni Beecher, Arla slowly comes to realise her own failings, and eventually discovers the long-hidden reason why Ric will never utter a cross word to his mother.
Also, adding to Arla’s stress is the fact that her son Stuart will soon be marrying Ria, a girl whom Arla feels is just looking for a free ride. Arla is convinced that Ria will be no asset to Stuart at all; her new daughter-in-law just wants to be a mother and has no intention of ever working again once the babies start to arrive. After visiting Stuart and Ria for Sunday lunch, Arla is convinced that her son is making the biggest mistake of his life.
Excerpt from ‘The Daughter-in-law Syndrome’ (copyright Stevie Turner 2015):
Toni Beecher turned over a new page of her notebook.
“So, Mrs Deane, as far as you’re concerned, the problems had started from day one?”
“Absolutely, and worse from the moment we became engaged certainly. Ric had been the only one left living at home, you see. His sisters were both older than him and were already married, and I suppose his mother realised that once Ric and I tied the knot then she would be left on her own.”
“What happened next?” Toni picked up her pen.
Arla slipped her hand in Ric’s, which seemed unresponsive.
“We decided it would take too long to save up for a mortgage; we wanted to be together, and so we rented a flat just outside Westen. Ric had finished his plumbing apprenticeship, and I was earning good money as a newly-qualified nurse. It was back in the early ‘Eighties, and my family thought the whole scenario was a bit scandalous; us living together without being married, but at the time we just didn’t care.”
“You would have rather lived together and then save up for the wedding afterwards.” Toni nodded in Arla’s direction.
“Exactly.” Arla squeezed Ric’s hand.
“How did your mother-in-law cope with being on her own?”
“I once found out from his sisters that she had phoned around the whole family crying down the line and letting everyone know that Ric had moved out and had left her all alone. After a few weeks she then started getting on the bus and inviting herself round to our flat for dinner every Sunday. His sisters were at home looking after children during the week, and she would visit them on weekdays while we were out working. Unfortunately for us I think their husbands viewed weekends as sacrosanct, and it seemed that every Sunday, particularly when I wasn’t working the early shift, without fail she would be knocking on our door at eleven o’clock in the morning. My parents would sometimes visit us on Saturday afternoons if I wasn’t working, but it was never a regular thing with them.” Arla sighed with the relief of getting her resentment out in the open.
“How did this affect your relationship?” Toni looked up from her notebook intently.
Without the usual words of condemnation from Ric, Arla felt encouraged to pour out her feelings to the counsellor.
“I thought that maybe she’d eventually get used to being on her own and stop coming round, but when I complained to Ric after about six months that we never spent a Sunday by ourselves, it was like talking to a brick wall.”
“In what way?”
“He would pretend that the problem didn’t exist.”
Arla felt Ric’s hand slide from hers, and out of the corner of her eye she saw him fold his arms defensively across his chest.
“Did he look forward to his mother’s visits?”
“He never said, but I don’t think so; we were young and in love, and sometimes we just wanted to lie in bed and have sex on a Sunday morning like thousands of other newlyweds, but we had to get up. I had to have dinner on the table by half past twelve, because I knew she’d be round, and that was the time she liked to eat her lunch.”
“I see. What was the atmosphere like during these visits?”
Arla looked sideways at Ric, who kept his gaze fixed on a jug of water on the coffee table.
“Ric would laugh and joke with his mother as though everything was okay, but I’d be seething inside. I’d been brought up to eat healthily, and here our paths definitely diverged because of Edna’s sweet tooth. For example, she would complain that I wasn’t adding sugar to the saucepan of carrots, and always reminded me to baste fat from the beef over the roast potatoes.” Arla took a deep breath. “When I once mentioned that we never ate chocolate biscuits because we didn’t want to put on too much weight, Edna brought a bagful of them with her the following Sunday, just for Ric. As soon as she went home I threw them away. It annoys me that as far as she’s concerned, her opinion is the only correct one. Woe betide anybody who thinks differently.”
“You obviously do.” Toni smiled and nodded her head.
“Yes, that’s why we don’t get along.”
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