I wanted to write a calm book but I failed. I wanted to write a novel about things.
I had a clear image in my head: my main character Elisabeth was dead; she was in heaven, her paradise, and Elisabeth’s paradise filled up with all the things she’d ever possessed in her life, only now everything was all in one piece and new. Nothing was worn out. The puzzles from her childhood were complete. There wasn’t a scratch on her kitchen table. All her shoes were pristine and shiny. Elisabeth didn’t meet her loved ones in her heaven, but her beloved possessions.
I wanted to have Elisabeth recount her life story based on her things – from the sheets she was born on, to the bed she had just died in.
I spent a year writing this story and ended up with just forty pages about a childish woman who maintained a magical relationship with the things around her as an adult, and liked to consider people the same way – as unchangeable objects.
That was when I began to provoke her. What was the worst thing that could happen to this woman? I gave her a daughter – Coco. I introduced Coco as a wild toddler who disrupted her mother’s house, her marriage and her life. Coco grew up to be the opposite of her mother.
Coco was the voice I had been trying to stifle for years: messy, spilling things, noisy, inappropriate and unrestrained.
Coco turned up at the same time as my divorce. I didn’t just want a calm book, I wanted a calm life, but I was failing magnificently at that too. To my astonishment, I found myself in the middle of a chaotic, almost absurd divorce and the only way to deal with it was to do anything but stay calm, and my love for the uninhibited Coco grew.
I gave Coco words, I gave her alcohol, I gave her more alcohol. I began to write in a hurry for the first time, carelessly, without reflecting too much. It was the only way to allow Coco to talk, and the only way for me to be able to write. For the first time, I wrote in the evenings – I’d never done that before – I was a morning writer, but well, what else do you do if you’re on your own in the evenings and your child is asleep and you don’t yet have any curtains, or a TV.
Coco drank, Coco ate, Coco fucked, Coco shook up her mother’s ordered life and I loved it. She forced me to change the story. I got Elisabeth out of her heaven, put her back on her sickbed and just as Elisabeth was about to start her dying, alone and contented, unhindered by other people, relationships, fuss, emotions, I had Coco move in with her, just as she’d moved in with me.
This blog was originally published as a guest blog on www.foyles.co.uk