Tuesday, 10 July 2012
I've been going through old diaries and notebooks and I found these pages in one from spring 1998. These are the very earliest glimpses of Brenda and Effie - eight years before 'Never the Bride' was published as a novel.
Brenda first came to life as a short story for the Afternoon Story slot on Radio 4. There was to be a week of stories about background characters in nineteenth century novels, and tales told from their perspectives. Alison Fell was due to do one, but found she didn't have time to accept the commission. She was our Writing Fellow at UEA that spring, and had the office next door to me. She suggested my name to the producer and the next thing I knew, I had to come up with a famously neglected out-of-copyright character and a story in monologue form all about her! Just the kind of commission I love to get.
I took the bus home from campus and by the time I got off at my stop at the shops on the Unthank Road - I already knew that I'd be writing about the Bride of Frankenstein. All at once I could hear her voice in my head. Ancient and filled with terrible knowledge - but confiding and gentle, too.
I ordered takeaway and sat most of that evening writing in an oversized Daler and Rowney hardbacked drawing book, which was my notebook of choice back then. I scribbled for hours, trying out her voice, all through the night. I wrote, rewrote and cut and pasted her fifteen minute monologue together. It would be about her first arriving in Whitby, and deciding upon the quiet retirement that she wanted to find there, beside the sea. It would be about this new friend of hers, Effie, who lived next door and who must never be allowed to learn the Bride's ghastly secrets. Oh, and she wasn't even called Brenda, then. She was called Bessie.
I can see from a note to myself on those pages that I actually had two weeks to get the thing done. But she was ready by the next morning. She arrived fully-formed...!
I think I'm in nostalgic mood about Brenda and Effie and how long they've been in my writing life. I guess that's bound to happen - what with book 6 coming this autumn. 'Brenda and Effie Forever!' is likely to be the last in the series, I think.