My next novel, Violet, begins with Beth’s early childhood piece about storytelling. It’s the first story of many, developing her voice and linking to the end of Violet, where her step-daughter, Hannah, writes a related picture book.
The section that follows, describing Beth at fifty waiting in a restaurant, was the original start to the book. I inserted ‘The Girl Who Began Again’ much later with the help of my wife, Sue Hampton. Both sections are about the power of the imagination.
‘Violet’ will be published on March 14th, 2018, and can be pre-ordered here. The commentary at the end of the extract tells you what went into writing it.
The Girl Who Began Again June 22nd 1960
Once there was a girl who thought there should be more sunshine in her world so she decided to start again with more smiling and plenty of fresh air. But her new life didn’t have enough rain to feed the trees so the next day she started a whole new story. Every day she made a new beginning. But even when the sun shone and the rain joined in to make a rainbow, the girl wasn’t happy with the day because she wasn’t a proper heroine, and stories have to have one of those. Otherwise a mirror and a spell are not enough.
Every time the girl started a new life she tried to be bigger in her own story. She was a princess but the king wouldn’t let her climb trees. So she became captain of the ship but she could never find the island. One day she was born a singer and the whole world was her audience with candles in their hands but the trouble was the birds sang a better song. In her next life she was a clever artist but nothing she painted was as lovely as the flowers. Then she started again as a doctor but she didn’t know how to fix all the fighting, just the wounds.
By now the girl was a lady, but her knight rode off to battle leaving her asleep. Then she escaped flying on a swan and went up into nowhere. When she began a day as an angel by the end of it she’d forgotten how to be good. Every new day of each new life she had to throw her story away because the ending wouldn’t come and you only know it’s a wonderful story when it’s over.
The End. By Elizabeth Jarvis
If Beth Jarvis had been watching herself on camera, or observing her actions in a book, she might well have wondered what could have brought her, a woman of fifty with a job and children, to wait for an hour in a busy city restaurant facing the door on a cold February evening. To sit there alone shivering slightly, a figure on the lookout taken, perhaps, from one of her half-written stories and positioned there quietly, one hand on some papers while observing the tablecloth.
She’d come as promised, arrived on her own and far too early, made herself do it. A woman holding still, trying not to show.
Because really, considered carefully or looked at as fiction, it was what her friends would call – remembering the advert, the letters crossing, the in-deep expressions and pauses on the phone – crazy or silly, certainly eccentric, a rom-com or sitcom, something she herself wouldn’t credit if she read it in a book.
And yet she was here.
To anyone who noticed she might have seemed strange. Sitting in shadow, she was easy to read but not so easy to pin down. They might, like her, have wondered why she’d come here or what she was involved in. They’d have registered her red-lipped look and noted her top – low-cut with sequins – but sensed something underneath, a feel for difference, for questions unanswered, the whats and what-nexts, and why she’d travelled miles to sit there solo, a woman with a wine glass eyeing the customers as they came through the door.
Then there were her papers. Neatly folded and positioned on the table, a whole wad of letters. If stopped and questioned, or approached by the manager, she could offer them as evidence. They were her best chance. In any case they were all she had. The result of contact, received after work and read straight through, they’d carried her with them.
The letters and the calls. For the last two weeks, daily on paper or lying on the sofa holding the receiver: his voice and hers. And now in person, their first face to face.
Hearing her own thoughts, Beth pulled back. She knew her own silliness, how it pushed and pressed and despite her best efforts wouldn’t let her be. To be feeling kept her up. Thin-skinned or crazy, that’s how she was, or could be if she was allowed.
Because for so long now, she’d not been herself. She could feel it in the room. There was a cold bare space somewhere to one side, a place without warmth. Inside experience there was a door closed, a stop and a darkness.
And she’d lived there, hoping: late night in the kitchen, in the back room, writing, and alone in the lounge, staring at the TV…
I'd realised, late on as a writer, that the long sentence can transport the reader to another time and place. It's like diving: everything slows down while the reader holds his/her breath to the end of the sentence. So the reader stays at the bottom moving slowly, refocusing often and poking into everything. When she/he comes back up for air so much has happened that the world seems altogether different and a new mode of perception has taken over. Coupled with that, the short sentence ties the chain together. It acts as a breather, a marker and anchor point, and provides contrast. I spent hours tweaking the narrative voice in the restaurant to create a mixture of formal and informal expressions that would persuade the reader to see the bigger picture as a God-like observer as well as through Beth's eyes. So the language shifts from the grand soliloquy to contractions and internal speech forms as we change focus from the room to Beth and back again. And the purpose? To describe those complex, self-critical (and possibly self-dramatizing) feelings we don't usually own up to, using a mixed register that sounds both quick and alive and clinically accurate. The result is to translate the inner child-speak into adult language, sharing the dreams we all have that make us truly human. So 'The Girl Who Began Again' is there inside Beth in a hidden form when she's waiting in the restaurant. In the words of Saul Bellow: ‘All of us have a primitive prompter or commentator within, who from earliest years has been advising us, telling us what the real world is’. Leslie Tate
ABOUT MY BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir and a collection of lyrical essays. In brief: ‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. Both are innocents who have to learn more about long-term love and commitment, earning their independence through a series of revealing and closely-observed relationships. Purple is the first part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. Boosted by their ‘wider network’ they take secondary partners, throw parties and observe the dance of relationships amongst their friends. But finding a balance between power and restraint, and handling shared love, proves difficult… Blue is the second part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be ordered here.