Today I’m pleased to welcome Sarah Vincent to the blog. Sarah is the author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne which was published Three Hares Publishing on 7 November 2014. Sarah has written a lovely guest post about the lonely
All the Lonely People
I’ve always found loneliness a fascinating topic to read and to write about.
‘Ah look at all the Lonely People’ the Beatles sang, ‘where do they all come from?’
That was 1966, and it wasn’t until ten years later when I was in my early twenties, living in a new area with two small children and my trusty Remington typewriter for company, that the song began to resonate. I longed to know more about Eleanor Rigby who ‘kept her face in a jar by the door.’
I had no real friends to turn to at that time, but books filled the gap. I began seeking out Eleanor Rigby types in fiction, and I didn’t have to look far. Jane Eyre, Rebecca…fiction abounds with female characters cut off from the wider world and forced to make inner journeys as they await some kind of rescue. For contemporary fiction I looked no further than Fay Weldon who’s 70s’ heroines, isolated and struggling with their roles as wives and mothers I could identify with. Loneliness comes in all shapes and sizes. For that particular brand of loneliness that accompanies old age I can think of no finer novel than Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.’
We all have periods in our lives, where we feel cut off, set apart and unable to connect with the rest of humanity, and I think this is why the fictional loner has more appeal than the life and soul of the party, birdy-dancing her way through the cast of thousands.
‘But Vida’s voice is so lonely.’ When I met my new agent to discuss The Testament of Vida Tremayne, this was virtually the first thing she remarked on. Her look of appalled empathy struck a chord. Vida is a novelist, and most writers are locked away inside their own heads. That is when they’re not faffing about on Social Media of course, something Vida definitely isn’t guilty of!
Often we connect more easily with our fictional characters than with real people. It makes sense if you think about it. As writers, we’re in control of our characters. We put words in their mouths, whereas real people are unpredictable. Vida’s diary is her only friend and confidante. She’s never quite got the hang of Real People. This isn’t helped by the fact that she lives in self-imposed physical exile, in the wild borderlands between England and Wales.
Driving back from Cregaron through the dun-coloured uplands, the forests that hug the contours of the land like corporation carpet, my mind fretted over the same old question. What am I doing, living here in the middle of nowhere?
But loners don’t have to be writers or live in rural seclusion as Vida does. Even city dwellers can by exiled within themselves. Whether it’s an Anita Brookner heroine, stalking the London streets in her cardigan, or middle-aged teacher Barbara, the narrator of Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’ watching her clothes spinning round in the launderette, their isolation seeps off the page, drawing the reader in at gut level. It’s not just female characters either. Ishiguro’s butler, Stevens in ‘The Remains of the day’ is one of the most tragically isolated characters I’ve ever encountered. Likewise the man nicknamed ‘Colourless’ in Murakami’s ‘Colourless and his Years of Pilgrimage.’ How I ached for that poor guy to find himself a true friend!
A writer may nurture solitude, but even for writers this has its limits. It’s when Vida’s creative spark dies, that she looks up and realises she has no one. Her husband left two years ago to live with his new woman in France and she’s virtually estranged from her busy London estate-agent daughter, Dory. Her old friends meanwhile have fallen by the wayside.
Today as I opened the front door, the silence pressed against me like a living thing, the way a cat winds itself about your legs when it wants feeding. It had a swish to it, like silk. I paused, listened. What I would have given to hear Jon’s tuneless whistling right then. I nearly tripped over the rug in my rush to switch on Radio 4, as I always do, just for the comfort of hearing a human voice.
In fiction, it’s when the loner tries connecting with others that things get really interesting. Brookner’s quiet heroines when they dare step outside the front door, are frequently overwhelmed by stronger, extrovert personalities, while in ‘Notes on a Scandal’, Barbara’s friendship with younger teacher Sheba Hart quickly becomes warped and mutually destructive.
Vida is virtually a recluse, and this makes her vulnerable when she’s contacted by a mysterious fan, Rhiannon Townsend, a woman who slowly inveigles her way into Vida’s life. At what point does a fan become a friend? Vida hesitates at undertaking the strange-sounding Programme which this woman suggests will free her creativity again:
‘I thought we were friends, Vida.’
‘It’s kind of you to say that but…’
‘And don’t friends help one another? I consider it an honour to be part of the process. By working with a great novelist like you, don’t you see, I can get inside the process; I can see what it feels like from the source.’
This was so heartfelt, so genuine, I felt my eyes filling up.
‘You’ve been so good to me, Rhiannon,’ I said. ‘Well, almost more than a friend, more like a daughter.’
The real daughter Dory, is shocked when, at the news that her mother is catatonic in hospital, she dashes from London to find Rhiannon installed at the cottage.
Dory stiffens, taken aback at the idea of Vida having a friend: Vida who lived like a hermit, always buried in the latest book. But why shouldn’t she have a friend? God knows she’d need someone out here in the middle of nowhere.
Dory is not a reader, and confesses to never having read her mother’s books. We have to pity her, because for the avid reader of course, books are our friends. Isn’t that why we have this new disease of accumulating more and more books, of the ever-growing TBR list, of downloading endless Kindle offers we’ll probably never get around to reading? As long as we’re surrounded by stories yet to be read, we feel safe and secure, in the knowledge that we’ll never be truly alone.
About the Book:
“A lonely novelist, A devoted fan, A journal that speaks of unspeakable things…
Author Vida Tremayne lies silent in a hospital bed. The forces which brought about her terrifying decline are shrouded in mystery. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Dory is forced to abandon her fast paced city life to be by her mother’s bedside. Dory is resentful. She hates the country and she and her mother were never exactly close. Luckily Vida already has a carer, the enigmatic Rhiannon Townsend. A long-standing fan of Vida’s, Rhiannon is happy to take care of the bedside vigil. Dory is free to resume her life. Or is she? Then she discovers her mother’s journal. Vida’s chilling testament reveals the trigger for her spiralling into madness. It also reveals the danger that still lurks close by. A danger that will call on Dory’s every reserve of courage if she’s to free her mother, and maybe in doing so, to free herself.”