‘Spider’ is a fragmented, epistolary novel of guilt, horror and discovery by Mardibooks’ own Belinda Hunt.
For as long as I can remember I loved making up dramas about real people. People I knew, celebrities, characters in books would intermingle haphazardly in surprising settings and complex plots.
Unravelling the nuances, navigating the thin line between the impossible and the improbable to define an entirely new credible was a game of strategy for me which coloured my imagination. Growing up in a world where nice little girls were seen and not heard fed my fertile imagination and prevented boredom during long periods of forced quietude in the presence of austere, intellectual and very tall adults.
My current novel is about twin sisters, consumed by envy and guilt. It is a contemporary drama/thriller which moves around from the 1950s to current day between the Home Counties, The ‘posher parts’ of East Coast Scotland and various parts of France and Morocco.
Thematically, Catholic guilt plays a central role – this theme, I have found is increasingly cropping up in our thrillers, dramas and rites of passage submissions from new authors. Perhaps as this is a subject increasingly released from taboos, as the hidden secrets of some elements of the Catholic church are being aired and cleansed. Typically, stories like ‘Philomena’ and the ‘Da Vinci Code’ provide gripping journeys of discovery, personal and professional, and these are elements that weave through my novel.
Time and location
I find playing with time and place gives interest both as an author, in the process of writing and keeping it fresh and as a reader. We like variety in this fast paced, sound bite world and so short chapters which link yet stand on their own are successful ploys for pick up/put down tales.
The juxtaposition of voices has been interesting in formation of character – one twin is harsh – a Cruella Deville character, manipulative and scornful, devious and evil even, plotting continuously in her jealous rage. The sister is the counter. She provides balance and harmony. Yet the story opens on a paradox. It is up to the reader to piece together the tragedy and drama as it unfolds in a messy and not chronological order. Identity confusion adds to the problems the twins face in their flashbacks over the intertwining events. Death occurs – is it murder or suicide? And who exactly has died?
Who is it exactly, in the nursing home, watching the spider climbing the walls at the opening of the novel? So I take my style from Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd, whose story craft is colourful and engaging, giving a real sense of place and people. Yet the dark ironies come from a different period of writing altogether – the works of Waugh, Wilde and Winterson – provide an undertone for me – a rich tapestry of layering for different readers and different ages.
Clearly mental health provides a great setting for writers and this is where the story starts and ends…
Certainly this develops from my previous novella and short stories, and deviates in style, if not in ethos from my poetry. My ideal reader is one with a sense of humour, a visual processor who likes to be taken adrift in their mind’s eye. Someone who likes drama, action, stories, paradoxes will be a fellow of mine!
Louise’s eyes ranged listlessly between the spider on the wall above the bed; the clock above the door and the garden beyond the window. She waited. Unsure. She sat trying to remember where she was. How had she got here? Nothing in the room gave her any clues.
‘I shall close my eyes,’ she thought, hugging herself and swaying back and forth in front of the window. ‘Someone will – must – come.’
She opened them. Images of trees swaying in the warm air; the sounds of children playing, ghosted the now empty, snow-covered lawn, where a lone blackbird prodded the whiteness searching for morsels. She looked out.
‘It’s no good, nothing.’ On the floor her handbag sat sagging open. ‘Maybe a train ticket or diary?’
Feeling inside – her black leather wallet; a used tissue; some polos, half open; a pink lipstick and a powder compact; the chewed stub of a pencil and a shopping list, crumpled. ‘Potatoes, bread, cheese, post office.’ She read out loud, her voice surprising her. It sounded gravelly. She reached for the polos and sucking on one, considered the only clue she had. ‘Post office. Why would I go to the post office?’ She looked in her wallet. No money. She looked in the bag again. No phone. No keys. She looked around the room again. Bare walls. A victorian wooden wardrobe, a single bed with a mauve quilt that matched the curtains. ‘I hate mauve!’ – again out loud. She tried the door. It opened onto a large, balustraded landing. Unsure of where it would lead, she went out and then thought better of it.
The spider viewed her from the relative safety of his web. He had taken up position a month or so before, scuttling out of the dark wardrobe where he had dwelt undisturbed since the room had become vacant last Spring. The flurry of recent activity – the cleaning of the room; the unpacking of Louise’s meagre possessions; had unsettled him and he cast his industry now in the eaves above the window, traversing blackened beams and webbing across the perpetual shadows above her bed.
Somewhere a bell rang. Louise’s eyes automatically flicked to the clock. The inexorably slow passage of time was measured in tiny jarring movements by a deficient, bent black spike. Lunchtime. Mealtimes were the only markers of her day from sunrise to sunset…She was no longer able to tell whether she had been there days or months. Occasionally a small girl came to chat. But she was not sure if she was real.
Looking down at her fine hands resting on her lap, she became aware of her surroundings. This washer room. Neat, clean and simply furnished, lacking any fuss. This confused her momentarily, but the fleeting notion as to why did not stay long enough with her to form any reason.
She caught herself in the mirror. She rose to go to lunch. She was allowed to move between her room and the dining hall now and, catching her reflection she stared at a tall, elegant woman, in a floral blue dress and cashmere cardigan. Greyish hair pulled neatly into a bun. Beige tights and leather slippers. She seemed to recognise the slippers. A foreign country, a bazaar? Morocco or had she read that in a book?
The spider was on the ceiling now, she noticed, as she left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Belinda’s published poems and short stories are available from Amazon – Windows and Doorsand Mrs Godbothers and other Musings on the Seven States of Man