Island Life, Word Birds & Process
This week I completed a draft of my third book. (Hoorah! Cake! Etc!) As I edit like a loony along the way, I don’t tend to number drafts. Technically, it’s the first complete one; realistically, it’s part tidy & part messy. My next trick is to print a hard copy which I’ll leave in a darkened drawer for as long as I can bear the suspense. In the meantime, I’m attending to the ‘throwaway’ words.
And pondering the title.
Like it or loathe it, Girl in the title of a contemporary novel, however ubiquitous, appears to sell books. As a woman who writes largely about women (albeit about girls as well), I have long eschewed reaching for the Girl word. And yet I find myself unexpectedly in love with a title I conjured several months ago for this story. It contains the word Girls – plural – & I like it. I allow it as it’s part metaphor & because it takes into account the fact that some women in some stories (as in life) will always be girls. (Two of mine certainly are. One is a girl of seventeen so points anyway.) More importantly, regardless of age, some women will always be intimately connected to their girl self.
Against all my previous feminist conviction, I’m now convinced Girl can work in certain kinds of grown-up fiction titles. And I’ve reached this conclusion after a great deal of thought. It’s exercised me in a way nothing has for a long time. And I think – for me at any rate – writing the story of Ida & Heather has sealed my certainty; I know why I’ve changed my mind.
It’s because both pain & a sense of wonder are never completely eliminated from most women’s lives. Girl in fiction is part of an important, ironically feminist, narrative. At a certain age (ambiguous in itself) women are expected to conform to a norm no one really understands. (Certainly not men.) And for those of us of a certain generation, not least our mothers (surviving the patriarchy by the skin of their collective teeth.) These excellent, brave, hopeful, frustrated women, insisting we were old enough to know better & yet too young to understand.
I deliberately made my Girl character seventeen. It’s my own go-to heart age. I may not recall eight or twenty-five in any detail, I remember being seventeen as if it were yesterday. It’s a magical age: girls on the cusp of womanhood, when they have more power than they have the wisdom to appreciate.
The woman, as Girl, is saying she isn’t prepared to let go. Girl allows her to reach back & touch the luminous moments. Girl keeps her safe & her dancing dreams alive.
It’s a wonder all by itself. So I’m risking it – it feels too right not to.