An Anecdotal Bit From Childhood: The Importance of Being Elegant

Growing up, I lived in a poor community. Most people were farmers, and almost everyone who wasn’t worked as factory employees, had menial jobs or were unskilled labourers. So the general income level wasn’t very high. My father was an academic, a university professor and a research scientist. Although he wasn’t wealthy, with an income in the upper middle class range, in the village, by comparison to everyone else, he appeared super rich. And the kids always thought of us and referred to us as the dirty rich.

Baby girl pink

I remember, as a little girl, my mother always got me up very nicely whenever I went anywhere. I was like Carrie Anne Houghton. Even when I went out to play at the park, the other kids would be wearing the usual outfits kids wear to play in, T-shirts and shorts, that kind of thing. But my mother would always dress me in pretty dresses even just to go out to play.

Even to go to school, I always went stiffly done up in dressy blouses or fancy dresses, rather than what was considered more “normal attire” for a child my age.

Not surprisingly, that made life difficult for me. In addition to the stigma of always looking different from everyone else, it’s also not so easy to play in fancy dresses or long skirts. They’re not exactly the most adaptable kinds of outfits for traipsing around in a playground, climbing up ladders and trees or running around in the rain, all of which were activities which, like all kids, I loved to do.

Those long skirts would get in the way and get caught on everything when I tried to shinny up trees. Getting caught in a summer storm with my best friend, Bea*, who walked around much more practically dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, and instead of seeking shelter (like any sensible adult would have done), we stayed to run around in the rain and had a load of fun. The fact that I was wearing a pretty dress wasn’t a problem for me and didn’t bother me at all.

The problem came when we returned to Bea’s house and her mother hit the roof. Bea’s mother was aware of what a strict, iron-fisted disciplinarian my mother was, and she was terrified my mother would have a fit. Knowing what my mother was like, she was convinced my mother would never let me play with Bea again. Yes, just because Bea and I were playing in the rain.

(My mother did have a fit, not because I returned home looking like a drowned rat but rather because I arrived home late. My mother was very strict…… But then again that, and the wild adventures I shared with Bea, are fodder for future posts of an entirely different nature……)

I remember trying to climb up the ladder on some slides once and tripping over my long skirts all the time. (And in addition – velvet! Now I like velvet, but when I was a little girl, it was nothing but a right pain to romp around in playgrounds all dressed up in velvet!) I went up only once, tripping over the skirt with every step. And then when I got to the top, since the skirt was made of fuzzy velvet, it kept sticking to the metal sheet of the slide.

After only one attempt, the adults present made me sit down on one side for the rest of the afternoon and just watch as the other kids had a blast and had the time of their lives, while the only thing I got was to sit still and miss out on all the fun! I cried and cried and cried. (I was a very little kid at that time.)

That, basically, was the story of my entire childhood. Seemed my parents did everything within their power to make sure I never got to play. But as I’ve said before, that’s fodder for a different post.

As a child, I hated walking around looking like a miniature-sized adult. But now as a grown woman, I realize I really do appreciate my mother’s good taste and elegance. For a long time I used to hang out with hippies and as you know, hippies, in general, aren’t very well dressed or elegant.

But now I’ve become aware of how stunning my mother really could be when she wanted to. Her tastes were more classical than mine. After all I’m a Sagittarian so a bit eclectic. But now I realize how much she could teach me and has taught me about how to be elegant, how to have class, how to look and act like a lady.

As a child I didn’t care for that sort of thing. But now, as an adult, I realize how important it really is. It really is important for a woman to look and act elegant. To exhibit good taste in everything, from the way you look to the way you behave and act towards other people. After all, no one likes to hang out with a pig.

I can see, reading over this post, that there’s a lot more autobiography in Patricia than I realized. When you write, ideas just come to you, and you don’t wonder or question where they come from. But of course, these ideas and memories are always there. Always within you, inside your mind. In your unconscious. And they come to the surface when you do things like write stories.

* not her real name


Trivia from PATRICIA

Here I felt like plunking down a little bit of trivia, things that you probably didn’t know about the first novel I published, PATRICIA.

Well, not that you probably didn’t know. These are things you DON’T know – because I haven’t told anyone about them yet. But now you’re getting them straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak hehe.

Warning: contains SPOILERS!!

If you have not yet read my first novel PATRICIA, don’t read on until you do read it. If you would like to read it, links are at the end.

The skeleton key: When I was writing the novel I didn’t plan AT ALL for Carrie Anne to find the skeleton key in her pocket. And that is such an important part of the plotline, and I didn’t even plan it. I actually wrote the scene where she was taunting the girls with their skeleton key, when she had them locked up, because I remembered that Patricia had thrown her skeleton key to the floor in disgust. So I thought it would be neat if Carrie Anne picked it up and taunted the girls with it.

Then she put it into her pocket because it was the most convenient place to put it. Then both she and I forgot all about the skeleton key.

Later when I was trying to figure out how she was going to get out of the cage, all of a sudden I just had a BRAINSTORM and all of a sudden I remembered she’d put the skeleton key into her pocket! I had forgotten all about it!

So you can see, I didn’t plan that amazing and fortuitous and miraculous piece of luck for Carrie Anne AT ALL. It just happened!

In fact, for that matter, even the existence of a skeleton key at all is totally fortuitous and unplanned for. I had the idea that I wanted some boys to be sneaking in at night, and it occurred to me that the best way for them to sneak in would be if someone possessed a skeleton key. That’s how the skeleton key was born. But if I hadn’t had that idea, I would have thought of some other way for the boys to sneak in, and then the skeleton key would never have existed.

I also didn’t plan for Patricia to throw the skeleton key to the ground and then for Carrie Anne to take it. She just did. Throw it to the ground, I mean. Then I took advantage of that fact for Carrie Anne to pick it up and taunt the girls with it.

Miss Bray and her homemade bombs: Although all the characters are made up and as far as I’m aware, none of them was inspired by anyone I knew (although you never know, the subconscious always weaves out some pretty weird things……), my chemistry teacher in high school was really called Miss Bray.

In her case, Janet Bray, not Joyce Bray as in the novel. She taught us how we could make a real bomb in our own homes (or garages). I was impressed that a high school student could make a bomb.

Setting: I set the story in New York, even though I’m not American and have never lived in the States (although I enjoyed frequent visits there in my youth), because I figured this was the sort of story that I just simply couldn’t imagine ever occurring in Canada, where everything is staid and everyone is quiet and predictable. I just couldn’t conceive of something like this happening in Canada not even in a hundred years.

Bellina: As I was inventing the character Bellina, I asked myself what her name was. And her name popped into my head, along with her whole backstory, about where her name came from. I just had to find some place to fit that backstory into the novel. (Refers to a deleted scene which I might one day post on this site. One day, maybe……)

Madame Zubie: Madame Zubie was a real “character” used by a popular columnist of the daily newspaper Montreal Star, that I used to skim through and pretend to read when I was a child. She was fictitious, but this columnist used her to crack all sorts of jokes at the end of every post of his. (I probably only read the Madame Zubie jokes, don’t think I actually read the posts themselves…… wouldn’t have understood the posts anyways……)

Carola Hochmeister: The word “Hochmeister” doesn’t exist, although turns out it’s a fairly common German last name. Nonetheless you might have guessed, if you know a bit of German, that it roughly means “high master” or headmaster in German. (Although it’s not the actual word for headmaster in German.) As to where Carrie Anne got the idea for this name from – I haven’t the faintest idea!

I simply woke up one morning with the entire story in my head, from start to finish. Even the names of some of the characters, like Carrie Anne Houghton, Carola Hochmeister and Miss Havisham. The one name I had to sweat out for myself was: the title character’s, Patricia!

Fedora: I also tip my hat to Thomas Tryon’s magnificent and original novella Fedora, his tragic tale about a young girl who impersonates her elderly mother, a faded film star, for many years. In PATRICIA, Carrie Anne dons a fedora and white gloves to hide her youthful hands, like the young girl in Fedora.

Male/female characters: One character was originally a woman and I changed her into a man. It was Mr. Mallory, the director of Dorsey’s. I changed her into a man to balance out the characters because with them all being girls’ schools, there were too many females. For the same reason Lucas Barrett is a boy.

Sequels: I left many questions unanswered at the end of PATRICIA. I didn’t leave these questions unanswered because I wanted to prepare a sequel, originally. I left them unanswered because that is the way real life is. In real life there are many things that you never know or find the answers to, even though you want to. Life is full of mysteries and incognitos that you will never solve. So I wanted to leave the novel the same way too.

But of course when you do that, then you naturally want to find out what happened next for yourself! Hence the sequels.

Romance: I actually got the idea of including Jamie Barrett from a novel I was critiquing at the time by my critique partner, Netta Newbound. I’m not much into romance, but I thought that touch of romance in my critique partner’s thriller was really nice and made it a lot more interesting. The original story had Carrie Anne running around the school all alone and feeling lonely and wishing she had a friend (when she’s running the school, not when she was a student). So I got the idea that a male employee that Carrie Anne falls in love with was the perfect solution.

Makeup: Someone commented to me whether it’s possible for Carrie Anne to make herself up so effectively that no one could recognize her. I used to work as an actor, and I learnt theatrical and stage makeup (because this myth that actors have pro makeup artists making them up is just that: a myth, unless you are a Hollywood actor, otherwise actors have to do their own makeup) and believe me, it is possible to do most ANYTHING with theatrical and stage makeup.

People have also wondered how it was possible that Patricia didn’t recognize Carrie Anne. Well, as you saw in the end, actually Patricia DID figure out who she was haha. I’m not too sure HOW she did it……

The Havisham mansion: The seventeenth-century mansion setting of Miss Havisham’s Exclusive Boarding School for Respectable Young Ladies was inspired by the mansion in the Bonnie Tyler video mentioned below (the mansion in the video, by the way, was really constructed in the late nineteenth century…… but we can always take artistic liberties, right?):

Songs I listened to for inspiration for this story (click on each song to watch on YouTube):

Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart

Nightwish – Nemo

Nightwish – Sleeping Sun

Cher – Strong Enough

If you didn’t heed my warning at the beginning of this post and you read on through all these spoilers anyways, and you haven’t read PATRICIA yet, you can pick up YOUR copy here:

At Amazon.com
Or Amazon.co.uk