A lot of the time when you’re writing a book you are working and don’t even know it. The other day while at the playground, I was exploring wider themes and character motivations in the book which always feels to me like uncovering things that were there all along, patiently waiting to be found.
My book is about a family of wise women, bean feasa in the Irish, with a range of healing and other powers. A kind of ‘Charmed’ meets ‘Practical Magic’ but set in 90’s Ireland. The women have two key struggles, with society, represented by the town, and the cailleach, a paranormal landscape figure or witch they are bound to.
The desire of the women to be free of the cailleach and her refusal to release them has manifested as a family curse that sees one member of each generation take on a quest in an attempt to free the family, so far every generation has failed.
However, like any good antagonist the cailleach is not all bad. As an otherworld figure she has a dark side you’d expect. After all, hers is a kind of half life and she is jealous of the women in ways. She is more villain and wild nature than evil, at least to her mind.
The struggle for the women is they want to be free of her but also of society. They don’t really wish to destroy her, and they don’t believe society should be the winner. The question is, how do they free themselves from both and be the world to themselves? If they can achieve it they’ll be beyond reach of chains, society’s and their own. What price is too high for that kind of existence?
The curse, deep rooted superstition, inherited culture, power of place. How real are these things and does it matter how real, considering their influence and how deep they run in all of us?
The cailleach is a powerful barrier to the freedom the women crave, and already touch more than most, but she is also a part of them. They share more of an affinity with her than with society. She is the natural world, they don’t want to destroy that, they don’t want society to destroy that.
They are a part of her in ways they could never be part of the town. They never sold out their own wild nature for a human construct, for rules that masquerade as safety, protection, or civilisation. However, to be fully free they must break with her hold over them, and it won’t be easy.
The most free of the women are the ones that neither the town nor the cailleach have much sway with. The dark one who must take the quest is unfortunately the one most affected by the society and the cailleach, she is the strongest but therefore the most sensitive. The difference between the remaining two groups of two sisters are ones of place and belonging. To complicate things further there’s family loyalty which is love, and in some cases romantic love.
As the women have one foot in the mortal world and one foot in the otherworld they can, and do, play off one against the other, sometimes with fatal results. The various societal and wild nature links are stronger in some of the women than others and these create intense conflicts.
At the end of the day the story is a quest narrative, the quest is for freedom and enlightenment, for wholeness, for the love of life, for the self.
Years into writing the book I discovered all this in the playground on Tuesday.