I'd like to tell you a little about my greatest achievement: a novel entitled "Chameleonic", a three part saga based loosely on The Divine Comedy. I wanted to examine the hypocrisy endemic in the English class system, particularly post-War: all that jovial 'we're in it together' melted away like snow, yet the outward trappings of camaraderie remained. You know: 'good morning, Mrs Lovell. How's Doris? Oh, good morning, Vicar. Yes, the plans for the church fete are going swimmingly.' And so on, whilst beneath the veneer of capability the ordinary middle-class lady, married to a cleanshaven chap who goes off to his office punctually at 8 each morning, returns at 5 in the expectation that slippers shall be warmed and little Bobby behaving himself, is a seething mass of rage, sexual frustration and despair. The ordinary middle-class lady whose husband is more shocked and disgusted not by the fact that she has had an affair, but that she has had an affair with a mere grocer. A woman who has dedicated her life to hiding her fragile mental state, holding on to her sanity by a thread, looking perpetually into the abyss: a state that her neighbours neither know nor care about, because it Just Isn't Done To Pry.
I set "Chameleonic" in a village on the south coast - deliberately leaving it nameless; I wanted to convey more the sense of the time in which my characters lived, rather than place, in order to make it applicable to all England. There's the usual selection of retired Brigadiers and Majors; also a healthy crop of dilettantes, the most outrageous of whom is Byron Stanton. He's married to Gala, a red-headed shrew with whom he has constant stand-up fights (viz. "As she passed by the self-consciously named “La Belle Époque”, Byron and Gala’s tottering cliff top house, the sound of distant shouting came to her ears. She stopped to listen. Above her somewhere a door burst open. ‘Bring me a kipper, anus!’ Byron bellowed.
‘How dare you call me that?’ screamed Gala from her tower room. Melanie could see the violent conflagration that was her hair from the lane below.
‘It means ‘old woman’, you fat ignoramus,’ Byron shouted.") Byron's favourite pastime is to pretend to be someone else: one day a cavalry officer, the next a Maharajah, the next Napoleon. He has a Dressing Up cupboard full of useful items to aid his metamorphoses: monocles for the Country Squire, sagging cardigans for the American Grandpa, togas for Nero, red braces for the Tycoon. He is also deeply unhappy, wandering Dante-like through the dark wood. As is Gala, poor Gala, who goes through life labouring under the impression that she is unloved; their tragic niece, Bella, who knows that if she is not flamboyant and outrageous no-one would take any notice of her, Bella's abandoned pink-eyed trembling son, Carson...
"Chameleonic" is not all doom and gloom, however. There is redemption, humour, unexpected joy and tenderness; the whole gamut of life. Love, too, that escapes the narrow confines of the society which seeks to bind people irrevocably to unquestioned notions of respectability.
"She watched the movement of his intense dark eyes, he felt her gaze and smiled suddenly; looked from one eye to another, lost in the complexity of colours. The clear, near translucent whites flushed a faint rose like the blushing wilderness sky before dawn. He remembered such dawns in France. When the pale landscape took on endless shades of milk-green with the changing light and lavender shadows slid across crimson rock. Remembered the sable fields streaked with gilt ribbons of gleanings, the bowed heads of sleeping sunflowers. And as the gleaming fire eye of the sun opened in the ivory sky and the deep blue of the heavens sank lie a veil towards the horizon, the sunflowers raised their golden faces expectantly. Encircling the landscape of her sight a black wall, perfect and unbroken. The territory within charted by archipelagos of light and deep green sounds, a map that drew the reader inexorably into the heart of her consciousness, the centre of the wheel. He looked upon her soul and found it glorious."
I can't wait to share "Chameleonic" with the world. Also its sequel, "Panopticon", a work in progress; difficult to write because it requires me to live a vast range of emotions through my characters. I average around 300 words a day. But if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well and taking time over. Far better 300 words of excellent prose than 3000 words of chick lit, for example...