Attending local book club meetings has really driven home how the reader brings their background and life-experiences and emotions to a book, finding meaning that the writer may have never intended.
Last week, on speaking to a club comprised of local mothers, I realised that in writing Half-truths and White Lies I had touched on a subject that would divide and might anger: what would drive a person to give away a child. What right do I have to write about this, having no children of my own, and not truly appreciating what is at stake? I tell them that my job is to explore different points of view, the sister who longs for children and the sister who feels undeserving of children, to take each element of the plot to its natural conclusion. Almost defensively, I explain that several readers have written to me sharing their personal stories of how twenty, thirty, even forty years ago, they came to give up their own children, and have not been able to speak about it since. It seems right that I chose a hidden story for Faye, and I am pleased to hear that the group feel that she is the character who is most misunderstood.
Several of the group think the title is clever and want to know how I arrived at it – and exactly what is the difference between a half-truth and a white lie? I have to admit that my original title for the book was Venn Diagrams, based on the suggestion of a work-colleague who found my family and friends so complicated that she needed a diagram to show who was who and how they were connected. I admit that the title was the publisher’s contribution, something that I have never felt comfortable with, in the main, because I do not feel as if it belongs to me.
I am surprised when meaning is attached to a ‘throwaway line’ that rings truer to a reader than it did to me. This brings to mind one of the most exciting parts of the process of writing in which, after writing what seemed on the fact of it to be a ‘throwaway line,’ the whole plot seems to hang on it and demands to be re-written around in. Why had I made reference to the 164 bus route? They were numbers clutched from the air. Does the fact that I had unwittingly chosen a local bus route mean that my subconscious was trying to tell me something? I fear it simply hints at a lack of imagination.
Finding that I had gone to the same middle school as one of the mothers, I was reminded of a detail that I had almost forgotten: how, when it was being demolished, I took my camera each lunch time to obsessively record the progress of the crushers and diggers, and of how I wrote about this in Peter’s story. Two years later, the rubble is still on the site, our shared memories lying among them.
At times, I feel remote from the discussion, as if the book that is being discussed is not mine. As in a dream, I wonder if I have come to the wrong meeting. But then I recognise a phrase that is most definitely mine. I can actually remember typing the words, visualise the shape of them appearing on the screen, the action of changing punctuation in the edit. I feel envigorated, pleased to have written something capable of provoking emotion and discussion.
If you would like to choose Half-truths and White Lies for your book club, Jane will consider attending your book club meeting or, if this is not possible, she will provide some suggested questions to kick off your discussions.