Dorothy Cannell: Occasionally, as in now having just finished a book, I feel squeezed dry of
syllables, let alone even short words. I wilt under the weight of admitting that writing is a job, that my nasty employer (self) heaps on the guilt when I don’t show up for work on a fairly regular basis, take too many coffee breaks, or sneak off to read someone else’s book. I tell myself I’d be much happier returning to the days of telling myself stories. Those that don’t have to be good enough for anyone else, and best of all require no punctuation – major weak spot. Make my head my office. How organized is that?
I start where I always did. Playing the game with which I entertained myself endlessly as a child – ‘What Character Would I Want To Be In A Book?’ Today as I meandered about the house doing comfortably everyday things, including making cranberry sauce … and not much else, I chose one of my longtime favorites – The Vicar’s Wife. Always a nod to the one in Murder at the Vicarage, which was the first mystery I read. She was vividly there on the page of my mind. A pretty, spirited young woman sadly deficient in domestic skills married to a considerably older man whose absent minded reserve prevents him from letting her know until the final chapter that he finds her entrancing.
In Agatha Christie’s novel, the vicar’s husband was named Len. But I decided my character would prefer one with a more romantic name. I toyed with Adrian before settling on Aiden, which seemed to demand that in addition to being exceedingly clever, with an emphasis on the classics, he should also be handsome. For a brief moment he was dark and lean jawed, but that didn’t seem right and he became fair haired with a square jaw. But with dark eyebrows to emphasize the occasional sardonic look he would give his wife in the interest of creating tension between them during the time when they didn’t understand each other’s motivations.
The agreement had been a marriage in name only. Separate bedrooms. He thinking she’d only married him because of a broken engagement following her being left penniless on the death of the maiden aunt who had brought her up. She believing him in love with the squire’s brittle, sophisticated wife. And in the midst of these uncertainties the flurry of vicious anonymous letters arriving at homes through out the parish, the attempted suicide of the churchwarden, the writings of The first Bishop of Tete on Pyke stolen from their hiding place in the bell tower…
That was when I dropped the cranberry sauce stained wooden spoon on the floor, because it had happened as it always did. From conjuring up one character I had shifted into coming up with the straggles of a plot. A dated one. Not the sort much written about today, but considering the book I’ve just finished is set in 1932, this was appealing. Sufficiently so to make me want to get to work – scribble it down. And now I have.