Dorothy Cannell: Several years ago I was invited to a drinks and ‘horseydervy” party where other than my husband and hostess I didn’t know anyone present. As a result, the latter took me round the room and made introductions. Husband, true to form, merged into a group of men talking about tools and their reverence for Home Depot. During my circling I heard several people say how wonderful it was that – let’s call her ‘Estelle’ – had come. Such a surprise! So rarely did she socialize. Couldn’t afford to take time away from her life’s work.
Glances were cast in the direction of woman standing in a corner. I won’t describe her other than to say she was approximately my age and she had that clever way with floaty scarves that I have never managed. I was intrigued and a little intimidated when my hostess brought me up to her. What could this life’s work be? Something scientific, or math related perhaps. Having never grasped how electricity works and having long forgotten how to do fractions, I have always thought people of that turn of mind brilliant beyond belief. It was a shock when my hostess announced after making the introduction that Estelle and I had something in common.
“You both write.”
“Oh! So nice to meet you!” I said on a gulp of relief. This did make things easier. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your last name. What’s your area?”
“Dorothy does mysteries,” contributed our hostess.
“Really?” Estelle stared over my head as befitted someone on a higher plane. Understandable, of course! After all … genre fiction! The fact that people read it by the droves only proves how tacky it must be.
“I’m afraid I haven’t heard of you,” she continued, “but then I wouldn‘t have even if you were a name. I haven’t read a novel in years, even of the critically acclaimed sort. I can’t allow another’s prose to cloud my own, to infect my vision … the luminosity that must pervade not only every sentence but every word.”
“Estelle has been working for years on this book,” beamed our hostess, “so it is bound to be incredibly significant when finished and will win all the coveted awards. The Pulitzer, the Booker …”
“I’d rather not say anymore about it,” said Estelle, meeting my eyes for the first time. “I don’t want to sound rude, but I get tired of fending off questions about the concept – I suppose you’d call it the plot.” She could have been speaking to a toad.
I didn’t ask if it was her first. Had to be if it’s her life’s work. I caught sight of my husband and murmured that I’d better join him before he bored people talking about the fence he was building to keep in the dog. He can go on a bit about ‘Do it yourself’ challenges, but I was suddenly eager to have him enchant me with a monologue on hammers. They make such lovely murder weapons. Everyone has one, so hard to identify if you get the blood off right away. I wondered, as I sped his way, how many people had been tempted to give Estelle a mortal clout to the head. This summer I have thought several times of that encounter with her and I have to say that her isolating herself in her ivory tower, far from the common herd, has grown in appeal.
I’d be much further ahead with Peril in the Parish if not having spent a lot of time with family and friends, either at home or on excursions around Maine. Perhaps if I’d proclaimed that I was writing a significant book, one certain to set the literary world ablaze – that would have Austen, Dickens and Tolstoy turning in their graves in envy, they would have insisted on my having months … years of alone time with my masterpiece. I do hope Estelle’s was not destined to languish in a drawer until it turned to dust and that she has not come to regret not mingling more with the common herd.
I’ve found there’s a lot of grazing to be done – helpful to propelling my storyline forward when living life at its most wonderfully interrupted.