04 March 2012

Jonnie Comet on 'Deirdre, the Wanderer'

from a PR flyer, 12 September 2011

What methods of research did you use in creating Deirdre, the Wanderer?

  I would like to say I sailed to The Bahamas; but I haven’t.  It was just too far out of reach at the time I was writing the book.  I do several kinds of research for a ‘location’ novel like DTW.  First, I read.  I read everything I can about the actual settings-- in fact this reading is usually what makes me want to set a story there.  Then I research details, via the Internet or, not so long ago, encyclopaedia, textbooks, CIA fact sheets (easily available), and especially maps and sailing charts.  Perusing cartography enables me to discover specific places for which I can acquire photographs and more detailed maps.  Google Earth has been an invaluable resource lately for the Asian and Australian legs of Deirdre’s journey (Adventurer).
  Whilst writing DTW (in 2000-2001) I used a then-current map of Nassau to establish Deirdre’s movements there.  More recent visitors will know of the shopping arcade off East Bay Avenue, new in 2005, or may not know of the old Straw Market which burned down in about 2002; but the details in DTW do accurately reflect the time period of Deirdre’s visit to Nassau (April-June 2000).
  This is all academic; it is only a start.  The refinement comes when I ask people who have been there to share their experiences.  I have several yachtie friends who have been to The Bahamas many times and one friend who owns a condo in Providençiales who have been fonts of knowledge.  My mother took a yacht cruise in the BVI; her experience with the harbourmaster at Jost Van Dyke (long before 9/11, when immigration got tighter all over the world) is the basis for that in Deirdre, the Oyster’s Pearl.
  Several times now-archaic details will alert an astute reader; but remember this is essentially an historical novel capturing a way of life no longer possible in the modern world; and a responsible author will ensure that details like prices and current events support, rather than detract from, the overall aura of the setting and story.

Is the character of Deirdre based on a real person?

  No; but like all good characters in fiction she is an amalgam of several different people with a good measure of pure make-believe thrown in.  I was once involved with a girl called Deirdre who told me of the Celtic legend, about the gifted singer who was pursued by her family members and their rivals until all she loved were dead and she was left to wander, weeping, for the rest of a short unhappy life.  The concept of a poor homeless girl who is forced to travel alone, never finding solace or security, was what inspired the theme of the novel.

In your opinion how do you believe the character of Deirdre can influence other people?

  In no way was Deirdre meant to be a role model for other young people, especially not for girls, especially not for girls who consider running away.  It is more appropriate to consider her a kind of anti-hero, doing exciting and interesting things but as a person not quite worthy of emulation.  She is a very flawed being who makes very human mistakes and quite often, by the standards of any responsible person, her decisions are just ‘wrong’.  One might suggest that she had no truly good reason to run away from home in the first place; but she does not mention her reasons for leaving with any detail till the very end of DTW-- and, some might argue, not convincingly.  Desperate for love and acceptance, she tends to fall too quickly into relationships upon which her safety and security depend; and most of these turn out badly for her.  And there is the whole question of why she has a need to keep moving when a safer and more lucrative course might be to simply find another job where she is and settle in.
  But in other ways she represents the kind of self-made, self-reliant hero or heroine we all want to be like.  She is clever and resourceful, beginning as a callow child with only a provincial, immature lookout on life, and gains self-confidence through trials and self-worth through successes.  If she should not be emulated for what she does, she might be respected and admired for how she does what she does-- for at her best she is the stuff of which all heroes are made, bravery, honour, dignity, perseverance and a not-inconsequential slice of unselfish altruism into the bargain.

Why should someone want to pick up and read Deirdre, the Wanderer?

  I have called DTW ‘escapist literature’, meaning that it’s the sort of book that takes you off to some alternate reality for a while and makes you yearn for a world in which things could really be like that.  I think to some extent all novel-reading is meant to do this.  When we read Jane Eyre we revel in a society without mobile phones or e-mail.  When we read Horatio Hornblower we cheer for the British imperialists and despise the French democrats.  Harry Potter makes us believe we could actually go to school to see, and even learn, magic.  Books like these we remember longest and most fondly.
  Deirdre is a reluctant heroine who tells her story from a perspective of sheltered innocence, youthful insecurity and naïve optimism.  She is placed in a situation that requires her to grow up quickly; and she relates her experiences with eye-opening frankness, as though she doesn’t know how surreal or shocking it may seem to other people.  As a reader you will naturally worry about her and sympathise with her, almost as though she were your own friend, sister, daughter or child.  If you’ve ever wondered or worried about the trials and tribulations of a teenager caught in a hostile environment, you will find an interest in her story.

What would you like professors and critics to see in Deirdre, the Wanderer?

  I would hope that professors and critics, from now through all posterity, will recognise clever style, intelligent use of narrative and monologue, authentic details with regard to both people and places, and a subtle but powerful message just beneath the surface.  I would like them to see the narration as something apart from other books ostensibly similar, and in time to see the character in the continuum of Pamela Andrews, Jane Eyre, Tess Darbyville and the second Mrs DeWinter as possibly one of the more charming female protagonists of women-centred fiction.

What would you like average readers of Deirdre, the Wanderer to see in the book?

  I would like people to recognise Deirdre as a normal ‘girl-next-door’ who finds herself in some very unexpected and often very formidable circumstances and has only a very normal set of personal attributes with which to effect her own survival.  She is no-one special; she could be you.  Yet in the way she rises to each occasion she illustrates what the average teenager is capable of doing, and that should both inspire and entertain you.
  I’d also like people to, as I often say, ‘live in the book’-- to have fun with the experience of reading it, to laugh when it’s amusing and shudder when it’s scary; for it is both these things in due measures.

What is your own favorite part of Deirdre, the Wanderer?

  There are so many parts that it’d be hard to limit myself to only a few.  I like the first paragraph, intended to draw you into a story you don’t know yet.  It is a technique I like to use even in face-to-face conversation, for it arouses interest and rather demands you pay attention to the next bit and so on; and you’re still left out of the whole story for quite some time afterwards and so have to sort of sleuth your way through it.
  I like how Deirdre’s own thoughts (given in italics) often question or comment on the reality before her, showing her real innocence and cluelessness.  It’s realistic, especially for a somewhat sceptical and almost insolent teenager.
  I like her sense of wonder at the new places she sees and the new experiences she has, as though she’s aware this doesn’t happen every day to most people.
  And I like how she so often puts herself down.  She is always too critical of her intelligence, her abilities and especially her appearance; she doesn’t seem to know she is lacking in none of that and so it’s actually ironic, humour at the expence of the character herself.
  My favourite plot segments are the struggles with Johnnie, the sail in the Optimist dinghy, all of Book VII and all the cosiness with Sandy.  These show Deirdre for who she really is, brave yet vulnerable, steely yet soft.  I like the characters of Tumblebunch, Iris, Tony and Petula, and Sandy MacNally-- one my favourite characters ever-- for the sheer humanity they impart to the story.
  I don’t like Rosemarie, Leslie, Clive or Ray-- and I think that shows-- because they seek to take advantage of Deirdre; but they also account for some of the scariest and most interesting parts of the book.

Can you recall the first and last parts you wrote to the story?

  The first conception of DTW was of a homeless teenaged girl walking the length of an island in a swimsuit and sneakers with all her worldly possessions in a bag on her back.  It was to be part of another story but did not quite fit into it and ultimately became the scene on Grand Bahama in which Deirdre walks from Freeport to McLeans (Book V).  The concept recurs several times throughout the next two or three volumes as a kind of a defining image of the whole series.  (If there were to be a film of DTW a snip of this scene would have to appear in the trailer!)
  The earliest elements of the plot to be established were (in no order) the sail across the Bahama Bank in the Optimist, the stay at the private island of Sans Souci, the scene after dinner at Ray and Marta’s house, and of course the whole of Book I.  Given these the rest of it began to fall into place like the remainder of a jigsaw puzzle of which one has completed only the fringe pieces.
  The last of the plot completed was either the description of how Deirdre lands the job at Ray and Marta’s (Book VIII) or the segment at the Morton house in which she devises a plot to get away from Clive (Book V).  I like to write such all-important connexions between earlier-written bits ‘on the fly’, during a session of editing what has been finished, just logically leading from a prior scene into a subsequent one by means of dialogue or brief description; and these often become some of the most crucial scenes in the book because they set up and provide rationale for the action segments to either side.
  I truly cannot recall what made me begin with that first line as I did; but I’m afraid I rather impressed myself with it and in the event it’s made the whole book through establishing the tone of voice and prevailing attitudes of the narrator herself.

What other projects are you currently working on?

  Deirdre, the Adventurer (book 3) is in the editing stage.  Also in the works is the initial volume of Janine, of Paradise, a story of a young ingenue growing up in a fictitious British territory in the tropical Pacific, as well as a sourcebook about the setting itself called The Essential Paradise.  I have been working painstakingly on the HTML files to make these works available to Amazon Kindle® readers.  Colin (Bunge, Surf City Source editor) has me devoting effort to a readers’ companion volume for DTW, featuring essays, study questions, and rosters of data such as Deirdre’s full itinerary, budget, and her wardrobe, all of which represent vital support for the authenticity of Deirdre’s story-- and make pretty good reading on their own!

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