Wednesday, 29 January 2014
Journey into the past...
The Housemaid's Daughter is a work of fiction. But is any novel really a totally fresh story? Don't we all carry the stamp of family memory and personal experience, an imprint that forever tinges what we write?
In my case, the inspiration for the book came while learning to play the piano alongside my grandmother, and listening to her life story. A child at the time, I had no idea I was incubating the seeds of what would become a novel some 40 years later...
As we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, I have started to wonder about some of the influences on my family's migration to South Africa in the early 1900s. It's interesting to reflect that the most recent war Britain had fought prior to 1914 was the South African/Anglo Boer war from 1899-1902, a conflict that wreaked untold damage on both sides and led to a grudging peace. I wonder what my grandparents' families must have thought, as the young couple broke the news that they were seeking their future in this war-torn country. My grandfather, you see, had been offered a job to open a shoe store - the first of its kind - in a tiny town called Cradock in the rural Karoo. The young ones wanted to marry and head out for a new life.
Did their families actively discourage them from going?
Did they fear for their lives?
It's worth noting that my grandmother was not allowed to travel with my grandfather initially, and had to remain behind in Ireland for 5 years, while she served her engagement and he worked to set them up in Cradock. I had always assumed this was the etiquette of the time, but perhaps it was more about letting the dust settle after a bitter war, and allowing my grandfather to assess the lie of the land before they totally committed. Hedging their bets, in today's talk.
Or maybe her family utterly refused to let her go until they could be sure war would not break out again? And that the romance would stand the test of a long separation?
We'll never know. But it certainly makes a springboard for a thought-provoking plot!