If people ask me what I’ve been doing over the past couple of years or since the publication of the 3rd edition of Cassowary Hill, I sometimes just say that although I may not have been visibly productive, I haven’t been too idle! What follows may be more helpful.
I began research for the setting of my new book project in 2018, and that included traveling – in the magnificently forested Oregon-California border area, and in England, and in the Channel Islands (west of France’s Cherbourg Peninsula) where I unearthed some usefully detailed records in the Jersey Archive. Not that it’s a historical novel I’m working on, but some of the characters have backgrounds about which I needed to become better informed.
Today we have a profusion of tedious and predictable “celebrities”, whose status serves as a kind of currency, especially in the media and, yes, in politics too. Their preposterousness is generally bogus – contrived to engage what used to be called “the admass”, so of course it’s almost defined by conventionality. My own generation had its short-lived “counterculture”, which embraced idiosyncrasy of all sorts and was genuine in its way, but we were mostly under thirty and, regrettably, the majority eventually sold out to pragmatism, got on with mainstream careers and settled for the paltry pleasures of suburban consumerism. Two of my male characters are of that generation, one of whom is a natural-born nonconformist and an irredeemable free spirit. The other is less intractable, attempting with light irony to straddle both worlds – that of the “freaks” and that of the “straights”. (This was before the latter term came to denote sexual preference.)
Coming from significantly different backgrounds, but, thrown together as young boys in a grimly hostile environment, they become loyal friends. Their great common factor is the chance connection with a charismatic and constantly surprising middle-aged woman. Over time, the bonds of this eccentric threesome are threatened by a combination of both commonplace and unanticipated circumstances.
The female character is the driving force of my book. I believe that people who ask what I’m writing now are typically curious about what would follow a novel like Cassowary Hill. They may suspect that I’d want to pursue, in some different way, one of its themes – perhaps relating to the natural environment, or to the relations between humans and animals, or to a geopolitical cause. I take that as a compliment. However, while a distressingly common form of traumatic experience is integral to the plot and characterization (one with which I’ve been unhappily but tangentially acquainted), it’s not primarily introduced for a social or moralistic cause. I think my strongest motivation, aside from whatever one can blame on the artistic impulse, lies in observing the function that an older, clear-eyed, sympathetic (and in this case often hilarious) person can perform through a chance connection, having nothing to do with family relationship, social position, presumed responsibility, or even a bleeding heart. My inspiration, of course, comes from having known just such a person. She was a kind of honorary aunt and an improbable friend for me when I was sent from “abroad” to an English boarding school, and our lives overlapped intermittently – but blessedly – until she died twenty years later. She was also a very funny person, and this too has infected the narrative. Knowing that it may jar with the current tide of jaundiced realism, I’m afraid that I’m cooking up a novel of defiant optimism. I think it’s realism too, not at all fantastical, and a raucous celebration to boot. Readers and friends, we may have our wrists slapped, but that will be part of the fun.
With my best wishes,
David de Vaux