the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Trying to be Brave

on November 21, 2013

The title of this post not only sums up how I’m feeling, but it is also the title of my new work in progress.  As I continue writing the first draft of the novel with support from my supervisor Stephen Knight and other students on the MPhil at University of South Wales, I am amazed at how different the process is, when working alongside others facing similar challenges.

There are eight students on the course, two poets and six writing novels. We were asked to submit work for circulation this week and I will set aside time when it arrives to read through and comment on the submissions of others. The other big difference in writing for this course, is the research element. I’ve read so many splendid novels written from the viewpoint of a child that something of skill seems to have lodged within me. I’ve been making notes for the research and am beginning to understand why these novels are successful.

Here is an overview of Trying to be Brave, written before I starting the story.  Some of it is changing and I wonder how much this will be included in the final draft.

Karis works front of house in a restaurant overlooking the Thames and as winter turns into spring, she becomes strangely repulsed by the river. She avoids walking along the South Bank, tries not to look at the view while she’s serving customers, and scurries home at the end of her shift. At night, her mind is flooded by tidal waters, and she wakes as if throttled, gasping for breath. Antidepressants remove the sharp edges from her life but make her clumsy. After an incident in the restaurant where she scalds a customer, Karis flees from her job. Realising there must be significance to images that pervade, Karis visits her mother. Jenny hates talking about the past and rarely mentions Joshua, Karis’s younger brother, who went missing during a family holiday when he was four-years-old. Dismissing her mother’s objections, Karis decides to return to the village in the Dordogne where she last saw Joshua.

            The middle section of the novel is told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Karis and begins with an altercation between her parents. Gary is angry that he won’t be able to have his fortnightly visits from the children because Jenny insists on taking them away for the whole summer. During a detour to the ferry, Jenny stops to collect her friend Dee and her daughter Fay, who’ll be making up the party at the caravan. The mums insist on a break from parenting and delegate the responsibility for looking after the younger children to Karis. During an exploration of the area, Jenny finds an artificial beach where the children can play, and the women can sunbathe. Although Karis is in charge, she really wants to be with the older kids chatting by the rocks. When Fay and Joshua are occupied building sand castles, she joins the queue and takes her turn to soar above the river on a rope-swing. It’s only when Karis returns to base, that Jenny realises Joshua is missing and the police are called. It takes twenty-four hours for Gary to reach the campsite, and immediately tensions erupt. Not only has Jenny lost his son, but she’s sleeping with a woman. Unable to cope with the conflict, Dee takes Fay and heads for home. Karis is left alone and discovers that sleeping on the top bunk isn’t fun when there’s no-one lying underneath.

            Revisiting the village, Karis searches for anyone willing to speak English. The shop assistant is obliging but views the English with contempt, unable to forget the damage caused by the lost boy. Already Karis knows that Joshua’s body was found in farm outbuildings and the perpetrator was never caught. But she didn’t realise that her father had been under suspicion, and the mums had been condemned for being lesbians and more interested in each other than looking after the children. By the river, the banks are muddy from where cows graze, the campsite turned over to pasture. Thrashing through the undergrowth, Karis finds the tree from where the rope swing still hangs. She tests the strength of the fibres then puts a foot into the noose. Sliding above the water, Karis connects with the freedom of flight, at last able to realise that the loss of Josh is not her fault.

What do you think of it so far?


6 responses to “Trying to be Brave

  1. I might have problems with the scalding as that needs to be resolved. Scalding someone and running away? Think of how that can reach a resolution. You may be able to bring her back and resolve this at the end of the novel. Re the women and the father difficult to say as it would need teasing out and both might be overload, one or the other. Also resolve in your head exactly where he went missing to. Was a body ever found. It is a great beginning with potential but everything must have some sort of resolution which I have no doubt you will find. Have you read Donna Tartt by the way?

    • gailaldwin says:

      You’re absolutely right about finding a resolution to all the different parts. I’ve read The Secret History, but it might be worth having another look at that. Thanks for your help.

  2. Pauline Howard says:

    I also found the scalding episode tricky – maybe it should be a lapful of dinner instead? I was also thinking that the boy was ‘just’ missing and there might be a possibility of finding him again. Learning he was actually dead was a little bit deflating. But I have to say I’m intrigued and want to know more.

  3. suesteph says:

    I love the title and remember you first outlining your plot when we had lunch a while ago. I don’t have a problem with the scalding episode as such, as it would be very easy for an elbow to be nudged while serving coffee…. you’ll know when you write it. You’ve fascinating elements of guilt, atonement and discovery here. Overall, I’m intrigued and wondering who did it and why!

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