Echoes of Family, Back Story

Back Story

My first three novels grew out of dark what-if moments related to my life, but this novel came to me through a scene. One summer my family and I were visiting my childhood village in England when the opening of a story—set in the church—began playing in my mind. I saw the church ladies twittering over wedding flowers up by the altar while an elegant American woman watched from the back pew, eyes hidden by sunglasses. I felt their rising concern for the stranger and witnessed one of them dash off to fetch the vicar, who was attacking stinging nettles with a weed whacker. When he crouched down to say, “What’s brought you back after all this time, Marianne?” she replied, “I’ve come home to die.” That was all I knew.

I put the scene aside, but I was curious about this woman who talked of death although she wasn’t dying. Understanding Marianne’s thought process, however, was a challenge, and the only thing that made sense was her homing instinct. Like Marianne, I have a strong connection to my childhood village, and I’ve never reclaimed the part of my heart that lives there. I love walking into the butcher’s and hearing the owner say, “Hello, Barbara, how are you?” as if I’ve been buying his chipolatas every week. On some level this novel is about the pull of my childhood village and the sense of community that I still miss.

I was also drawn to the idea of a character who had done everything right to manage her mental illness and still everything had gone wrong. My experience from living in the trenches with mental illness is that the challenges never end. The triggers are out there, waiting. And there are always new levels of acceptance to attain.

The last piece of the story puzzle came from my fascination with music as therapy. When my son was younger, I worked hard to find something that would bring peace to his battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We tried meditation, yoga, all the usual suspects, but once he plugged in his first electric guitar, he discovered that creating music was a natural tonic for his anxiety. By the time he’d become an intern at Nightsound Studios in Carrboro, I’d already abandoned a story about a bipolar teen and her dad, a musician who ran a small local recording studio. One evening my son came home talking about his work, and the next morning I woke up with Jade front and center in my mind. Jade was the missing piece of Marianne’s story.

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