An Uncertain Age began as a short story. “What happens next?” a few friends asked. And so I began to wonder myself. I only knew that a woman had met a man on the Eurostar…
A story has a curious power. It is as if it already exists in some far-off realm, is only awaiting its just translation. I never question my loyalty to this invisible realm. When I write, I forget myself—that is the joy. I gaze into the abyss, and I wear my bedroom slippers during the day.
Slowly it starts, this submersion into the unknown. A word, a phrase that won’t go away. The characters—those archetypes of the imagination—haunt me. They impose themselves on my consciousness. Suddenly Justine, the main character, turns and says something garbled. Then—poof!—she retreats.
Charlie Rose often asks his guests at the round oak table about the process of writing. Unfortunately, the unique relationship between author and character is not easily explained. More often than not, it ends up sounding as if the otherwise respectable author spends his or her time playing with dolls. That there is a special bond between them is evidenced by the fact that the author, upon penning the last words, claims already to “miss” the character. Which seems suspect in some way—as though the author is not of right mind, too soft, or, more worrying still, not in control of the art that he or she creates. Yet this very connection between the real and unreal is something that the reader can understand because for the reader there is also a bond. It is unique, and fluid, and it intimately interacts with the reader’s psyche. Here the author has no part. The author’s job was to get the story down. So I think of myself as a cross between a hack journalist and a Victorian lady whose tender life is a heightened affair of wonder and sensibility.
It took about seven years to write this novel, which came into being not long after the events of September 11th. I researched things like art and physics, religion and beekeeping. I never knew where one bit of information would lead, and so was surprised by every synchronistic connection, one clue leading to the next, until the borders of consciousness came tumbling down. As I wrote, I became especially interested in the idea of “the other”—someone whose ways and beliefs are different than one’s own. This shadow self, as Jung knew, can cause us to react negatively to that which essentially mirrors ourselves. I’m thinking of the misunderstanding between different faiths—but it could be the misunderstanding between mothers and daughters. These are the points of compassion that are so easy to turn from.
Copyright © 2011 by Ulrica Hume