Charlotte Castle, author of Simon’s Choice, a novel detailing what happens to a young couple confronted with tragedy.
Interview by Pat Black
Booksquawk: The subject matter is tough. Did you find it difficult to write?
Charlotte Castle: Would I sound like a heartless bitch if I said no? The truth is that I knew that I could never pick up and read a book that focused solely on the impending death of a child. The only way the story would be readable for me, was if it was tempered with black humour and alternating passages of the more harrowing aspects of the tale and more uplifting vignettes of backstory.
As I knew that I would be picking the reader back up after each of the darker scenes, I felt quite able to put the squeeze on the emotions. That said, I was pregnant when I wrote it, and there were more than one occasion when I sat back and asked myself whether I ought to be even writing about such a topic. It felt very much like tempting fate and even now, I still have moments where I look at my children and think, “My God. If I'm ever in that scenario, I'm going to blame myself.”
B: It’s a look at relationships under extreme stress. Did your sympathies lie more with Simon or Melissa?
CC: My sympathies lay with both characters equally, though the most common criticism of the book by readers is that they don't understand the actions of Melissa. Both Simon and Melissa are factions of my own character - Melissa probably more so. Her behaviour towards the end of the book seems irrational, verging on insane.
But I like to write realism, and in life we do not always act rationally, particularly not in grief which some psychologists consider a form of temporary insanity. The reader is of course, supposed to care about Simon, ultimately - but I would always stick up for Melissa. Whereas Simon disappears into himself, her reaction to her appalling situation is to come out fighting like a tigress defending her cubs. She'll attack anyone who is in the vicinity with a rage born from primal protective instinct.....and does.
B: The book looks at the nature of faith, and the part this plays in our lives. But god doesn’t seem present in this book. Would you agree?
CC: I was brought up a Catholic but am now agnostic, verging on atheist. However, this doesn't make me unappreciative of the importance of a belief system in many people's lives, whatever that belief system might be.
In Simon's Choice we visit Hinduism, Christianity - even a “medium” down the pub. Faith (even to people like me) often becomes very important when somebody you know is dying. Simon is exploring something to believe in, something to comfort him - whether one or other of those options is the right and true “faith” is not for me to say, and it would be hypocritical of me to attempt to deal with anything other than the very human aspects and philosophies of religion, rather than an ethereal presence. So yes, it is a book about faith but it is a book focused on humanity.
B: Is it possible to plant even the smallest seed of hope in such a situation as Simon and Melissa face?
CC: Yes. It is. Simon's Choice deals with the most raw months of this terrible time in their lives. When anybody loses someone they love, there is a moment - often weeks, perhaps even years, when they think: “I will never, ever get over this. Every day, every minute, I am going to feel this agony of loss.” And yet, it passes.
For some it passes more quickly and certainly the pain never goes entirely - but like a shrapnel wound, it becomes an occasional wince of sharp stabbing pain, rather than a constant, almost unbearable state of being.
There are also charities that help those struggling with grief and I would implore anybody suffering in the way Simon does in the book, to reach out and seek help. There is comfort to be found amongst people who really understand what you are going through.
B: Let's talk about your current projects.
I'm currently wrestling with my second novel Fugue, which I hope (as do my publishers, who are stamping their feet for a manuscript) will be published this year. Again I am tackling a dark subject but trying (and I hope succeeding), in peppering it with black humour and moments of light relief.In it, Brenda, a dumpy 42 year-old is found standing, knife in hand, over the body of a naked, tortured and mutilated dead man, in her council flat on a British council estate. It would appear an open and shut case - except Brenda is “plural” - she has Dissociative Identity Disorder - or Multiple Personalities.
The book is told from the point of view of her many “alters”, and not only explores identity and what makes us who we really are, but reads as a murder mystery - which of Brenda's personalities committed the murder and can the remaining 6 'alters' be imprisoned for the actions of the one?
Simon’s Choice is available now.
Read the Booksquawk review here.