When a bolshy old dear takes on a new activity – something unfamiliar – you can bet she will put her own stamp on it to some degree.
I’ve always been a fan of the ‘aside’. Whether it’s Eric Morecambe turning to camera mid sketch and giving the audience that knowing look or Shakespeare allowing one of his characters to remind the audience that they share a secret not known to the others on stage. (“And yet,” says Viola, roughly paraphrased, “if he only knew that I was not his male servant, but in fact a disguised lady who fancies the pants off him!”)
Nineteenth century novelists used the device fairly routinely. “Alas, dear reader! Had she but seen…” and all that. It’s now fallen out of favour. Modern authors and playwrights tend to assume the reader is so immersed in the narrative that any intervention on their part would be unnecessary at least and impudent at worst. Me? I like it. As the author of The Glassmaker’s Children – I insert the occasional aside to the ‘dear reader’ and even, on occasion, move the story around for their benefit.
In Chapter 2, for example, I drag one character, despite his vociferous protests, from his rightful place much further on in the story to come and share some specialist knowledge he has with the reader.
“What? Where am I? And, ugh! What’s that smell, for goodness’ sake? Salt? Seaweed? This is the seaside, isn’t it? I HATE seasides! Nasty windy places with sand getting between your toes and into your lunch… and all those noisy, greedy seagulls. You can’t just pick me up and dump me here! I was in the middle of mixing some cough syrup for little Lily Jenkins. I’m not supposed to come into this story until Chapter 11!”
I’m sorry I shocked you, dear Apothecary, but I’m afraid we need you here, just for a little while, and then you can go back to mixing the medicine and I promise I’ll leave you in peace until your part of the story. You see we are talking about glass, and the Glassmaker. I need you to explain what is special about glass – the chemistry of glass – to our readers. Would you mind?
“Humph! It seems I don’t have much choice. Story-makers! How you mess about with people’s lives! Very well, then. Let’s get on with it, so that I can get back to my work.”
And it seems only fair, when we finally do meet this character in his rightful place in the story, to have him still mixing that cough syrup for the little girl and to ask the reader to excuse his somewhat distracted and nervous behaviour, in view of the shock he has had.
I remember as a child of roughly the age my present book is aimed at remarking to my mother that people in storybooks never went to the toilet. She explained that stories were different to life because the storyteller chose only the parts they wanted the reader to know about and could move to various settings and omit minutes, days or months at will. At the time, that was a revelation to me. Now, it’s a freedom I’ve enjoyed playing with and I’m perfectly happy to include the reader in the magical time travel that narrative involves.
More time had passed and it was the end of July. That’s how it happens in books. We story-makers can leap from time to time and place to place as effortlessly as you do in your dreams.
The Glassmaker’s Children – written for 9-12 year olds but apparently being enjoyed by many adults – is available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle e-book.