Babbitt, children, new books, ponderations, present, sad bits, writing

Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

For various reasons, I have been thinking on the nature of Hollie and Lije Babbitt’s wary relationship…. on abusive childhoods, and on how abused children grow into damaged adults.

The brief background to Hollie’s, is that he was brought up by his strict godly father, after the death of his mother. And as he grew up, being Hollie, he rebelled against everything his father taught him, and tried his damnedest to do the opposite. While Lije, fearing for his boy’s immortal soul if he carried on in his wilful disobedience, tried to beat him back to the path of righteousness with a strap.

Thirty years later, and they’re still locked in the same pattern.

Hollie wanting his father to finally acknowledge that his son is not a vile sinner, wanting Lije to say that actually, Hollie hasn’t turned out so badly, has made something worthwhile of himself after all. That the mother he never knew might be proud of him. That Lije was wrong.

That he was sorry.

And Lije is still wanting to correct, to make his son better – only now he’s trying to make Hollie a better father, and a better husband, as well as a better Christian. But he can’t leave well alone. It’s his way or no way: he can’t relinquish that control, and let Hollie make his own mistakes.

And, you know, it’s an odd thing. The child of an over-zealous evangelist. Or the child of an addict. Or of a girl with too much on her shoulders too young, forced into responsibility for a child that’s stolen her youth and her freedom. They grow up, for the most part, wondering what they did wrong. How they failed, because the person who was supposed to love them did not, and that must be a failing in them, surely, they must have deserved to be hurt, have done something bad.

(Hollie at seventeen, with his shirt over his head, explaining to the woman he was going to marry that he must have done something to merit the scars his father put on his back with a belt.)

That the person who should love them is really a good person, and they make that person angry and sad, and so it’s their own fault. That they cannot mend the person who hurts them, and ask they spend their days trying to be things they are not. Tiptoeing, saying the “right” things, in fear.

(Thankful Russell, at six, promising to be a good boy if his sister would only love him, and not hurt him any more.)

And then they grow up with a dreadful sense of responsibility, wanting everyone to be pleased with them, all the time. Afraid of conflict, because if you make people angry they might hurt you. Trying to manage situations so that everybody’s always friends, like some kind of bright game show where the prize is normality.

You can’t, of course. Taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour is a fool’s errand: you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. So you withdraw, because you have to, and you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t because other people only see the shiny side.

Love is not enough, is never enough: you can give everything, like pouring water into a hole in the sand, and it will drain away leaving exactly the same emptiness as before. And there’s a point at which you stop with the water. And then you feel bad because maybe this last bucket will be enough – maybe just this one last few drops that you were going to use to water the flowers but the hole is more important, and so you have to try again…

Until you don’t. You water your flowers. People don’t like your taste in flowers, bugger ‘em.

Walk away. Leave the goddamn hole to empty.

Which is exactly what me and Hollie are going to do.

 

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Gray, new books, ponderations, writing

Fifty Shades Of Darker Gray – when characters fight back

 

Marston Moor really is going to be a grim book.

(With much humour in it, but I very much fear that it will be a sort of grisly, Babbitty battlefield humour.)

Today I have been much thinking about Gray. It’s no spoiler that Gray is a woman; we’d call her genderqueer now, but in the 1640s cross-dressing women were sufficient of a menace that King Charles went public about his disapproval of such wenches in the Army, issuing a proclamation in 1643 to prevent the horror of it all.

There will be probably one day be a Gray story, because she intrigues me, too, but I’m not always sure I like her, never mind understand her.

This all comes from a remark about Tom Hiddleston – an actor who’s doubtless a mighty fine actor, but who doesn’t float my boat – one of those daft little memes that goes “Tonight, darling, all your neighbours will know my name.”

And I thought that was too funny not to use. Now, you know, Hollie – staid old married man whose idea of naked is leaving his sword on the table downstairs and whose definition of ecstasy is ember tart and Het in the same place at the same time – it’s not something he’d ever say. And Luce would probably be too busy kissing his way up the inside of the lady’s wrist and trying to look poetic and yearning whilst wrestling with her laces. Venning – nah, Alice would kill him. And the chances of Russell going to bed with anybody for another… well… a while, are remote: he’s too scared, after the last time.

So it’s going to be Gray, isn’t it? It’s going to be Gray, trying to demonstrate to a troop full of testosterone that she has bigger balls than they do.

The thing is, though, I was thinking about that young lady. I just can’t work her out at all. She is a woman, who dresses, fights, and behaves like a man. Does she want to be a man? I’m not sure she does. (I’m not sure it would cross her mind to, either.)

Does she want to be a woman, though – I’m not sure she does that, either, and given that she is going to have a relationship with one and possibly two members of the rebel rabble, that’s what I find intriguing.

And that’s where I start to flounder a bit. Because imagine this: there’s Gray. Young, not exactly what you’d call pretty, but in possession of all the necessary female anatomy, kicking around one of the rowdier sorts of knocking-shop with some disreputable sorts. There she is, swaggering about making slightly tipsy remarks of the nature attributed to Mr Hiddleston. This is the point at which she’s going to fall into the arms of some young man who’s going to make her a real woman… right?

And the answer is – no. I wish to goodness it was, but she’s resisting it every step of the way. She just is not going to let me write it that way. And she’s going to have her fling with one of the whores, and … so she’s going to be gay, right, and that’s why she dresses as a boy, because she’s some sort of butch drag queen?

And – nope, she won’t let me do that, either. (She’s currently glowering at me with her bottom lip sticking out like a baggage-mule’s, and her eyes narrowed. Definite no, then. )

Gray’s mother was raped by a soldier at the siege of La Rochelle, but I don’t think that’s it, I don’t think she’s frightened of men, I don’t think she has any trauma in her past from which the right man will free her. (Don’t think she’s frightened of very much, actually.) And when it comes to it – so to speak – she does like sex. Though she is, very definitely, the dominant one. So to speak. And then again, possibly not.

Which leaves me with an unpalatable fact.

She’s a woman, who is not motivated by “feminine” things. She’s not moved by relationships, or sex, or love. She’s not gay, and she’s not straight either. She enjoys the physical aspects, but she enjoys them just as much with a woman as a man, and she’s quite open about that.

Now I could decide that I’m going to write her differently. That I’m going to make her change, when she meets the right man: that really, she’s got a heart of gold – because that’ll make her nice and accessible, it’ll be a nice comfortable read.

But she’s not like that.
And yes, the man she marries – and she will, and if you’ve read all the books you know who she marries – she will break his heart. He’s one of the more likeable lads of the rebel rabble and there is a strong argument that he deserves better. But does he? Or is he marrying her because he thinks, in typical cork-brained romantic style, that love will change her into someone he likes much better…?

If you work on the assumption that people in books should be real people – should be themselves, should be believable, even if that means they’re not always nice, or kind, or comfortable – she’s good.

But by heck, she’s hard work to write as herself. 
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