For this edition of ‘Meet The Author’, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Dean Mayes, one of my favourite international authors.
I had hoped to be in a position to publish my thoughts about Dean’s latest book, ‘The Recipient’, in conjunction with this, his moving guest post “Pouring Myself Into A Story”. However the book has, and still is, leading me on such an intense and emotional journey, that I haven’t quite made it to the end in time …
Hi! This Is Dean Mayes
In 1950s Australia, during the height of the divisive White Australia Policy, Virginia, a young Aboriginal girl is taken from her home and put to work on an isolated and harsh outback station. Her only solace: the violin, taught to her secretly by the kind-hearted wife of the abusive station owner. However, Virginia’s prodigious musical gift cannot save her from years of hardship and racism.
Decades later, her eight year old granddaughter Ruby plays the violin with the passion Virginia once possessed. Amidst poverty, domestic violence and social dysfunction, Ruby escapes her circumstance through her practice with her grandmother’s frail, guiding hand. Ruby’s zeal attracts the attention of an enigmatic music professor and with his help, she embarks on an incredible journey of musical discovery that will culminate in a rare opportunity. But with two cultural worlds colliding, her gift and her ambition will be threatened by deeply ingrained distrust, family jealousies and tragic secrets that will define her very identity.
“POURING MYSELF INTO A STORY”
When we embark on the writing journey, it is an inevitable truth that we draw upon personal experiences in creating our characters. Our experiences shape us and shape how we see the world around us. From a creative perspective, personal experiences are a gold mine.
How deep we are willing to go into our personal experience can mean the difference between a bland, cookie cutter archetype and a compelling character – either protagonist or antagonist.
And it is not an easy thing to do. In fact, It is quite a brave thing to enter into and draw upon one’s collective experiences and then commit them to paper.
Casey Schillinge is a vivacious young woman on the verge of making her mark on the world. While backpacking, she is struck down by a tropical disease and suffers cardiac failure. But at the eleventh hour, Casey receives a life-saving heart transplant – and a rare second chance to begin again.
Three years later, Casey has become a withdrawn shell of her former self: she is estranged from her loved ones, afraid of open spaces and rides the line between legitimate and criminal work. The worst of her troubles come in the form of violent night terrors; so frightening that she resorts to extreme measures to keep herself from sleeping. When she can take no more, she embarks on a desperate search for the source of her dreams. In so doing, she makes a shocking discovery surrounding the tragic fate of the donor whose heart now beats inside her chest. As she delves deeper into the mystery of her donor, she realizes her dreams are not a figment of her imagination, but a real life nightmare.
In “The Recipient”, I based aspects of my main character, Casey Schillinge’s experience of being a heart transplant patient on my own childhood experience of being a patient. I must clarify here and declare that I have not had any sort of organ transplant but I did spend an extended hospital stay in my mid teens.
When I was 14 years old, I was diagnosed with an aggressive neurological condition known as Neurofibromatosis. It manifested as a spinal cord tumor that grew out of the base of my spinal column. Quite unexpectedly, one cold morning when I was umpiring a local junior football match, I collapsed and was unable to walk. Following radiological confirmation of the tumor, I underwent surgery and then spent the next year and a half learning how to walk again.
For a teenaged kid, it was a significant life event that affected me profoundly. It robbed me of my independence and forced me to have to rely on others – namely my family – and, in the beginning, this was something I accepted. I was scared and most unable to comprehend what was happening to me so I was grateful for the support of others. Over time however, I came to see the constant intrusions – both medically and familiarly I began to crave my independence and railed against the constant care and attention my doctors and physiotherapists and family gave me. I began to feel suffocated and I resented the disruption the whole hospital experience and rehabilitation visited on me.
Surprisingly, all these years later, I found that it wasn’t easy to telegraph that experience of being coddled and cared for into the complicated character of Casey Schillinge. It forced me to revisit some difficult memories and confront them when I thought I had come to peace with them. It actually realised in the process that I hadn’t.
The exploration of those memories, those experiences helped to add a satisfying layer of complexity to Casey Schillinge that served the story well and helped drive the narrative forward.
As a result of her heart transplant and the monumental effect it has on herself and her family, we find them struggling to adapt when the story opens. Casey’s mother Edie in particular, has taken it upon herself to be the primary carer for her daughter in the immediate period after her surgery and initially, it is welcomed. For Casey, her life been thrown into a tail spin and she finds comfort in the support of other. As time goes on and Casey recovers, she begins to crave her independence and sees her mother’s care as intrusive and suffocating. This causes friction between them which leads to an eventual fracturing of their relationship which, as mother and daughter, I saw as something quite significant. How that relationship – that conflict – serves the story became one of the most satisfying aspects of writing “The Recipient” and it really helped to drive many of the key scenes that occur later in the novel.
I did not anticipate how effective it would be to delve into my own life experience in order to create a character like Casey Schillinge. And I guess you could say that by doing so, the process helped me to exorcise some residual demons that I thought I had dealt with a long time ago.
How have you drawn upon your own personal experiences in your own writing? Have you revisited critical events from your past in order to construct characters and situations? Did they help you to understand those experiences better?
Thanks for the visit, Dean and I promise that my review of ‘The Recipient’ will be published very soon 🙂
Clicking on any of the cover images will take you straight to the book page on Amazon.co.uk
Read my review of ‘The Hambledown Dream’ here …
Read my review of ‘Gifts Of The Peramangk’ here …
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