Death, "The Quickening", and Resurrection (of dated manuscripts)

I have recently emerged from reading Mari Biella's scary, ghostly and disturbing novel: "THE QUICKENING". I'm usually a slow reader, with an uncomfortable tendency to abandon a book and come back to it later - 'later', in this context, meaning anything from days to weeks. Ruth Rendell, however, with her psychological intricacies and insights into the nastier side of humanity, has always grabbed me by the throat, and once 'into' a Ruth Rendell novel, I don't emerge until I've seen it through, although there have been a few exceptions. THE QUICKENING grabbed me in precisely the same way. I found myself deeply involved with the tragic protagonist, but also with the strange, flat landscape of the Fens (note to self - must go there one day) and the wild and unsettling weather, both of which form the vivid backdrop to this story. I don't often write reviews, but this book impressed me, so thank you, Mari.

On the right (I hope) is the cover image of "WOLFSONG", my Y/A novel first published by Walker Books and now long out of print. I'm reluctant to post this image on my  Facebook page: "Enid Richemont Children's Author", because it's a bit too explicit. It was actually painted, in oils, by the now deceased Canadian artist, Richard Parent, and I got to see the original at Walker, which was rather wonderful - the only one of my many book cover images that was an actual painting.

I'm mentioned this, not only as a small bit of publicity for the ebook - there is so much story behind this novel - but because I've recently been talked, by a writer friend, into having my first adult novel, "COUNTERPOINT", written on a typewriter all those years ago, professionally scanned, edited, re-typed and sent to my computer. This was a book written with a passion I've never experienced since. It's awkward, highly personal, very much a 'first novel', has many typos, and when it was written I didn't give a damn whether it was published or not because it felt so important to me at the time and I was so lost in the writing of it that sometimes I didn't know where I was. It was like being drugged. 

Now, so very many years later, I don't quite know what to do with it. The world has changed a lot since then, so its subject matter is no longer current. I've been playing with ideas of framing it inside contemporary dialogue between the children in the plot, now adult and perhaps even approaching early middle-age, and then actually assigning a date to the main narrative, like an historical document. Comments, on this issue, are very welcome, as are any thoughts on 'dated' mss, and especially ones re- technology - should we introduce phones/ipads into works written before they existed? This question, of course, relates particularly to children's and Young Adult works

Tomorrow I may, or may not (depending on the weather and my own strength) be attending a curious, and secret, meeting in Covent Garden, its subject matter being the right to choose the time and nature of one's own death. We are, very slowly, bringing this previously shrouded subject into the open, with Death Cafes are springing up everywhere. Interestingly, it seems to me that the USA lags a bit behind in this, although it is, and always has been, in the forefront of death commerce (when we lived in California and I was pregnant with my daughter, we were bombarded with leaflets for funeral plans, which used to make us giggle). However, one of my favourite picture books had the 'D' concept removed by US publishers - too disturbing for under-fives - thus undermining the whole narrative (and this from a country with serious gun control problems, but don't get me started on that one). Young children are as curious about death as they are about everything.



Susan Price said…
I completely support the right to choose how and when you die. Of course, there are difficulties, which need to be guarded against - but that's managed in other areas. To insist that someone else goes on living, in pain, possibly humiliated, in a state that amounts to torture, just because someone else thinks they ought to want to live, is immoral.

About your first novel - I think you should re-read it - or set it aside for a while and then re-read it - and then go on your gut instinct.
Dennis Hamley said…
i agree, Sue. When my time comes and if I become an unnecessary burden on those I love, I'll want to go too. Besides, having to watch people dying and trying to hide the fact that you wish, for their sakes, that they would go quickly, is an even worse affront. In this situation, those who should feel guilty often don't.

Enid, I've had exactly the same problem. It's a curse when you try to revive books hooked into another age. One, The Fourth Plane at the Flypast, was published in 1985 and the modern part was very 80s. It was a time slip novel. The trouble was that both times had slipped. So I made - very easily, with no need for any adaptation, a completely historical novel. After all, the 80s are now a distinct historical period. Besides, it was impossible to pretend it could be a straight update - my main character, a girl very importantly about fifteen, would have been nearly forty. A 'framing' device would have been really clumsy and merely an expedient. So I made it entirely a historical novel as well as a supernatural one, and came clean about what year each part was set in. That was enough. Anything else would have destroyed the balance it. However, with Spirit of the Place, an altogether weightier book, the 'modern' date, 1993, was absolutely crucial. But my main modern characters were people with hinterlands and prospects and their story wasn't over yet. So I wrote them something which I called a 'postscript' but which was much more than that - a chronicle taking them to the present day with hints about their future which showed the long-term effects on them of the events of the main story. It was necessary and not a framing of convenience. Framing can be useful, but not, I think, here.

Different books need different solutions. But don't, don't, DON'T try to saddle pre-digital characters with anachronistic technology. You'll get really fed up putting them in situations where you can't get a signal for your mobile and readers will notice very, very soon. I did that once in a reissued short story and I still wince with shame.
Bill Kirton said…
Having just re-issued the first in my own detective series (originally published in 1995), I've faced (to a lesser extent) some of the issues you mention, Enid. You'd think that 20 years didn't really represent much of a time scale but the speed of change of our digital age makes the 90s with their brick-like phones and steam-driven computers seem as distant as the world of Bertie Wooster.

On the second issue you raise, I'll just echo what Susan and Dennis have said. I understand and accept the arguments about the possible abuses which might accompany any 'right to die' legislation, but the specific cases which have brought it into focus over the past few years have shown very graphically the extent of the suffering involved. Notions of compassion, respect and dignity seem to be very low on the scale of relevance to the debate.
Mari Biella said…
Thank you for your kind words, Enid - I'm glad you enjoyed The Quickening. Your novel sounds very interesting, and I don't think its having been written some time ago will make it any less so. Fiction at its best transcends the period in which it is set, and taps into timeless human concerns. I've no experience as to updating previous works and don't feel I can comment on that, but I see no reason why Counterpoint shouldn't be made public!
Must say, I disagree most profoundly with what already seems to be a consensus here about the 'right to die.' We may have the right to kill ourselves, but we certainly don't have any right to ask doctors and nurses to assist us. Nor, in my view, should we have. Nor, when polled, do they want it and this has been their consistent position, probably because they are well aware of the complexities. Thin end of a very problematic wedge and totally contrary to the beliefs of the hospice movement. Spend more - a lot more - on proper palliative and end of life care for all.
Lydia Bennet said…
Books published in the 80s and 90s are still readable now, just as we enjoy books written and published in the 30s and in previous centuries, so I don't really understand why people who are putting out books written and/or published some time ago are updating them. Make it clear when the book is set, and leave it at that. it's not usually going to work to update them, as things have happened since, technology being not the least of it. Crime writers are deliberately going back in time to set their books pre-DNA technology to avoid getting bogged down in procedural stuff and concentrate on the 'puzzle' and the characters.
Enid Richemont said…
I've only now got into reading the comments following my blog, as I'd completely forgotten it was coming out today.

Re- injecting modern technology into previously written books - I'd only consider this in the case of a couple of Y/A novels where the lack of it might feel uncomfortable to a contemporary young reader. "COUNTERPOINT" is an adult novel, and came very close to being published at the time by a radically Feminist press with quite extreme views on racism (eg no negative uses of the adjective 'black', even when describing a mood/feeling/ or even colour) and sexism - no males to be invited to any possible book launch. Unsurprisingly, I withdrew the manuscript. It's very much a first novel, with all the faults that description implies, and I've come a long way since then, but it's strange,interesting, and also challenging because it's now raw material on my computer.

On death, mortality etc - Catherine - we have, I'm afraid, opposing views on this, which would need to be discussed in great detail - but not here.

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