My favourite book, as a child, was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In starting to write this, I’m irresistibly reminded of the Caterpillar’s question, and Alice’s answers:
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied rather shyly, “I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I ca’n’t explain myself, I’m afraid,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
Here’s a picture of the child who loved Alice:
Let us say that I am one of the goddess’ little jokes, someone with a mismatch between brain sex and body sex. When I read fiction, watch films or television drama, my identification will be with a woman or girl. That is not to say that my focus will be on the most girly character. Buffy and Xena are amongst my favourites. I delight in The L Word, and other lesbian dramas. All of this, I am sure, has left distinct footprints on my fiction.
In fact, I don’t think that I understand men very well – which doubtless accounts for my female narrators, and shortage of male characters.
I like this picture of me, taken in my 40s:
I was born in England in 1946: a time of post-war austerity and rationing. It was also the era in which young children received free National Heath Service orange juice.
There were downsides to 1950s England, in which I grew up. That said, some of the significant improvements since then affect adults, rather than children – notably relaxation in censorship and the control of sexual behaviour. On the minus side for a child, I might have been caned at school, although I never was. Also, the ordinary English diet in the 1950s was very bland. Chinese and Indian food had yet to reach the English provinces – let alone Thai. But there were pluses, even in the realm of diet: there were no burgers, trans-fats, horrible fried chicken. Chicken was a luxury that an ordinary family might eat once or twice a year.
On balance, 1950s England was a good time and place to be a child. In fact, I feel sorry for the twenty-first century children. Our parents sent us out to play, allowing us an extraordinary amount of freedom. And there were such places to play – wasteland of kinds one no longer sees. There were, of course, bomb sites – but I think that my favourite playground had been used, in some way, by the British military, and then abandoned. In the 1960s, it became neat, very dull, playing fields. By contrast, in the 1950s, it was a jungle. Another area of wasteland, and one that crops up in my fiction, were the brickfields: abandoned clay workings for bricks. Why they had been abandoned, I don’t know. The local brick industry seemed to have died, although the clay was clearly not exhausted, and there was obviously a continuing demand for bricks. Perhaps the owners were waiting until the time was ripe to sell the land for ‘development’. During the 1960s, the former brickfields were covered with housing.
The places where I grew up have vanished without trace. I am an exile, without any possibility of returning home.
In spite of adult themes in my work, my childhood experiences, and children’s books, form powerful influences. The influence of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books are visible in Daisy and (especially the Winter Holiday volume) in Jane and Daisy. Lewis Carroll’s influence appears in many places. Take Alice’s meeting with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, from Through the Looking Glass:
“If you think we’re wax-works,” he said, “you ought to pay, you know. Wax-works weren’t made to be looked at for nothing. Nohow!”
“Contrariwise,” added the one marked “DEE,” “if you think we’re alive, you ought to speak.”
Compare the Lewis Carroll excerpt with this from Margaret Again:
“If you’re alive,” Juicelle said after a long pause – her voice affectedly languid, “it would be polite to speak. If, on the other hand, you’re a blesh carcass, I’d advise you to stop breathing before you’re eaten.”
The Margaret Again version is considerably grimmer: blesh is the flesh of slaves eaten as meat.
The English language is something in which I take pleasure, and there is also delight in exercising a skill. As I wrote in Tuerqui:
Then I took a cloth and set to work. With some surprise, I realised that I’d been looking forward to the polishing – as a little bonus to being with Tuerquelle. There is something satisfying about working into glossy perfection an object formerly touched by at least the ghost of roughness. There is creativity in smoothing as well as in making.
My work, then, is moved by the pleasure of exercising a craft – and by my outlook, beliefs and experience of life.
I regard myself as a religious person, but there is probably enough on the subject in the Goddess section of this website. The only additional remark I need to make here is that the religious outlook of Warriors of Love characters is very similar to mine.
Turning to philosophy, amongst the ideas at the root of what I write is a phenomenological one. It may be summarised thus:
Although there is an objective reality, it is essentially unknowable… we cannot entirely escape perceiving the world through the filters of interpretation.
This is one reason why the Warriors of Love novels are all written in the first person, each volume representing that individual’s interpreted world. It is also a reason for my having a plurality of narrators (three, alternating with one another, a volume at a time). Each of the three interpreted worlds (to be visited four times in the twelve volumes) is distinct from the other two. Neither are they static, each narrator moves on before returning to contribute another volume. As Emmy Van Deurzen-Smith put it:
The person is a constant process of becoming.
(Windy Dryden [Ed] Individual Therapy: a handbook  p152.)
In general, I mistrust movements whose names end in ism. An exception is feminism, which is nothing if not plural. Feminism, I trust and hope, will be traced in my work – but there are many feminisms, some of which embrace ideas with which I strongly disagree.
I am for pluralism and for celebrating the world, which is a wonderful place. It seems to me that a point on which all of the world’s ‘great’ religions have gone seriously astray is to undervalue the physical. Let us celebrate the goddess’ bounty. I think, and hope, that my positive outlook permeates my fiction.
“That,” said Nicola as we emerged from the theatre, “is the finest show I’ve ever seen.”
“Life,” I replied, “is a fine show.”
We stepped out into the street, illuminated by many flambeaux, light reflected in puddles left by a recent shower. Heavily laden, an omnibus trundled past, freighted with revellers – laughing, singing. A pair of fine ladies in exquisite evening gowns and plumed headdresses clambered into a cab. The driver flicked the reins and the wheels clattered upon the cobbles. Onions, frying on a street trader’s brazier filled the air with a heavy scent. Barguin handed round the last of her honeycake candies. Placing one on my tongue, its perfumed sweetness filled my mouth.
The sweet seemed a metaphor for what life might be, and perhaps would be. I smiled at the reflection – and at my reflection, in a puddle. Daughters – I hope that your lives will be filled with such joy as was mine at that moment.
The reference to daughters is to Jane and her partner’s as yet unborn children. My daughters are my books. I hope that they will be read, and give pleasure – mingled, perhaps, with a little instruction.
I offer my love to my readers.