Bolder than Mandingo


Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. (Goethe)

What’s the difference between a change and a turning point?  This question emerged in a class on the Faber Edit Your Novel course a couple of weeks ago, when Louise Doughty came to talk to us about her novel Apple Tree Yard.  We concluded that there’s no going back from a turning point, unlike a change which can be reversed.

This reminded me of a scene in Marcel Theroux’s novel The Paperchase, about a game he and his brother played in childhood, where they leapt from a high cliff into the sea below, yelling “Bolder than Mandingo” as they fell: there was no going back.

What does it take to leap into the unknown, to change something forever?  Freud said:  How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.   That comment is now evidenced by the attachment studies, which show the capacity of small children to be curious and move away from their mothers to explore the world: the more loved they feel, the further they will go and the bolder they will be.

But surely the ultimate boldness is to take a leap into the unknown, uncertain of how loved you will be.  Because if that boldness is about holding to your own truth, then the dilemma to be faced is the painful choice: truth or love?

These ideas came back to me at another class on my Faber course, when our tutor, Hannah Griffiths emphasised the need for truth, authenticity and commitment in our novels: “Be really bold and up front about your basic concept.”

This was a very challenging statement to me.  I know very clearly what the central truth of Honor’s Ghost is, but I have rarely come right out and said it; it means too much to me.  The novel has several plot lines (pharmaceutical intrigue, marital breakdown) that I can talk about more readily and fluently than the core theme. That way I can distract myself, and others, from what I’m really writing about.

So, here goes nothing:

*leaps and yells*             BOLDER THAN MANDINGO…..

Here’s the simple honest truth of Honor’s Ghost’s core idea: it’s about our ancestors, and the dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours that they pass on to us, that affect our lives subliminally.  Their characters and experiences are part or our heritage, as powerful as the biology of our DNA: they can control a life, change a life, make or break a life.  So we need to discover them, honour them, and set ourselves free.

In Honor’s Ghost, this truth is told through the voice of the spirit of Annie, as she tries to make contact with Honor, her great granddaughter, to tell her story and to heal a wound.

“I’ve been trying to contact you for decades, Honor, for most of your life. You’re my only hope now. You haven’t exactly made it easy: you never even held a séance. Listen to me now; you’re my last chance.  You can save my soul Honor.  And then I can save yours.”  (Annie Griffin in Honor’s Ghost)

Annie’s story is based on the known facts of my own great grandparents lives, the devastating secret of their graves, and the story I have imagined to explain the extraordinary events of their lives and deaths.

So if those ideas engage you, my novel will interest you;  and if they don’t, then  read my novel: it may give you a whole different perspective on your personal history.

There! That didn’t hurt so much….. (but do you still love me??)

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