At twenty-one, Tallulah Park lives alone in a grimy bedsit. As Tallie grows up, she learns the hard way about damage and betrayal, that in the end, the worst betrayals are those we inflict on ourselves. This is her story about the journey from love to loss and back again.
A Family Secret
I think writing fiction is a great way to try to understand people. If you create a little world for your characters, and you make things happen to them, then they have to respond appropriately, and that really forces you to consider their perspective as opposed to your own, and how they might not only see but feel things differently to you, the writer, about these events, and about the world in general. So I think I’ve always been inspired by people, and in particular by families – which force you to look beyond your own point of view in a similar way.
Families are so important in shaping who we are, both in terms of genetic inheritance and environmental experience. Usually we feel that these people know us better than anyone else, so we feel able to act “ourselves” around them and free to say things to them we might not to others – such a gift for a writer!
Also, while we might look alike, or have similar character traits, we all tend to play different roles within our family unit. So in The Artificial Anatomy of Parks there’s the peacekeeper, the worrier, the drama queen, the loving figure, the bully, the figure of authority, etc. I decided to include a family secret, because I wanted to explore its knock-on effect on all the characters, and how their roles in the family can dictate their responses (and because it can make for great dramatic tension!). I’m sure, too, that every family has a secret. Especially when you look at people from my grandparents’ generation (born early 20th Century): they were growing up in the aftermath of Victorian society and its particular set of morals, so illegitimate children, affairs, homosexuality, etc would usually have been hushed up in case of scandal.
I started off with the character of Tallie. When I knew her inside out, I knew the bones of the story. (I’m not sure I believe that your character can completely take over your writing, but I think there comes a point where the plot can only move in one direction because the character would only realistically react in a certain way to people and events.)
I always knew I wanted to write about a large family, including uncles and aunts and cousins. Mine is quite different – both my parents were only children, so I don’t have any extended family. That also decided for me that Tallie would be an only child, because in the absence of siblings, my mum and dad were both really close to their parents, and especially their mothers. Tallie’s relationship with Evie, her mother, is in honour of the bond between my mum and my granny.
I also knew from the beginning that I wanted two separate narratives – one in the present day that would take place over a period of a week or so, and one in the past, that would follow Tallie from age five until twenty-one (her age in the present-day narrative). I wanted to be able to write both from the perspective of a child and an adult – a child for the humorous possibilities (asking inappropriate questions, misunderstandings, etc), and an adult for the analytic possibilities (being able to really think about other characters’ actions, and their motivations).
I wrote the novel as it reads, alternating between the present-day and past storylines. It took me about two years to finish my first draft, and then another few years to edit. The story itself didn’t change too drastically throughout, because the main thrust was always going to be leading up to the revelation of the family’s secret, but parts of the story needed to be beefed up, or cut down, and one character disappeared altogether while another was brought back from the dead.
Something I found really helped me was drawing up a detailed synopsis, where every single scene was accounted for. Reading over that, I was able to make decisions about pacing, whether the revelations were happening at the right times, whether to give the secondary storylines more or less emphasis, and whether they had too much or too little “page-time”.
It’s been a fairly lengthy process, but I’ve loved all of it: the writing, the editing, even the tearing-out-the-hair moments when I’ve realised that changing a scene on page 39 has affected something on page 290 and I have to think of a way around it. And I’m so excited that all my friends and family can read it now as a proper book! Although my dad did call me up the other day to say, “So hang on a minute... the story starts when she gets a call that her dad has had a heart attack....?”
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About the Author
Kat Gordon was born and grew up London, attending Camden School for Girls. She read English at Somerville College, Oxford and worked at Time Out briefly after graduating, before travelling around America for three months then returning to Africa to travel and work as a teacher and HIV counsellor. Since finishing her MA in Creative Writing in 2009 she also worked as a gymnastics coach. She lives with her boyfriend (also a writer), and their cat. Find out more at https://katgordonwrites.wordpress.com/ and follow Kat on Twitter @katgordon1984.