As anyone who has read my novel The Drowned Phoenician Sailor knows, I am intrigued by the special connection shared by twins. Like Verity, the central character in The Other Twin, I was born under the aegis of the zodiac sign Gemini, and perhaps that has fuelled my fascination. The twins I have known in real life (I always feel compelled to add “whatever that is” when I use that term) are not joined at the hip emotionally, and are often at odds, resentful of the assumption that they will think alike, dress alike, and get on like a house on fire. Setting each other’s houses on fire is more likely, from what I’ve observed – the uneasy sense that each is stealing part of themselves they want back, but can never have while the other twin is around.
Of course there are twins, I’m sure, who are happy with the mirror image each offers, and enjoy spending time together and sharing their toys, their clothes, their friends, and maybe even their lovers – but they aren’t the ones who intrigue me. As with all my novels, it’s the shadow that grabs my interest, the dark side of our loving, generous natures; the part of us that is driven by powerful desires that sometimes shame and frighten us with their intensity.
I’ve written before about the process of writing a novel, and each time – much like a love affair – it’s both familiar and yet unique. This novel was written in various stages, begun soon after I finished writing Dangerous People, while I was grieving the loss of those characters. (I said it was like a love affair.) I recognize, as probably many of my readers do, that there are certain archetypes that emerge again and again in my writing. As a psychologist I am well aware that there is some deep angst in my psyche I am attempting to exorcise – but it’s best just to acknowledge that rather than try and analyse it. Ripping the wings off a creative butterfly is never particularly useful. I’ll leave it to the critics.
There are times when it seems the universe hurls great Sisyphean boulders in our path to block us – or as I prefer to think of it, challenge us. During the early months of writing I was simultaneously orchestrating a move from the house I have lived in for thirty years. Anyone who has done this knows what a tortuous labour house buying and selling can be, and this was no easy ride. I was full of enthusiasm that gradually morphed into cynicism (not a comfortable fit for me) as I learned the hard way that not everyone can be trusted to play by the same rules as me. On the plus side, I gave roomfuls and cupboardfuls of stuff away to charity, and pared my belongings down to an almost Zenlike simplicity. (Definitely a good fit. I do love a good cull.) Only weeks away from the actual move (the third house I had made an offer on, and so surely third time lucky) family events erupted which ultimately meant I ended up not moving at all.
Here is not the place to talk about those events, which are still painfully raw, but it meant that once again the novel writing had to be relegated to an even lower position down the league table of my priorities. I wasn’t sure, for a couple of months, if I would ever properly return to it. My heart was elsewhere, wrapped around with many layers of grief. Not surprisingly, given all the stress I was experiencing, I had been unwell throughout much of this time, from the end of last autumn all the way through to now. My chronic fibromyalgia, neuralgia and associated stomach problems, soared to new heights of suffering. I’m not complaining. I have learned to live with the physical effects of what was once dubbed “over-sensitivity”. Sometimes it proves an easier companion than others. Writing has been for me one of the ways of liberating myself from pain – emotional as well as physical. And so it proved this time, eventually.
I opened my laptop one day and saw the poor neglected file that held two thirds of the completed first draft of The Other Twin, and started to read it. By the time I got to the end, I had to find out what happened next… and there was only me to write it. I had fallen in love with my characters all over again. Who were they really, beneath the masks they had assumed for the purposes of the narrative? Verity had already changed since she was introduced at the start of the novel. She had matured, as I always intend for my characters, experience having enabled her to widen her emotional horizons and grow kinder and more insightful. It’s what we each hope for ourselves, after all. I wondered where her choices would lead her, and continued to write avidly, discovering along the way.
The ending surprised even me. Had I always meant for it to be this way? It had the ring of inevitability about it, but even so I toyed with the notion of alternatives. But no other kind of ending had the same integrity, and so I had to bow to the deeper wisdom of the muse, as so often before. It really does seem sometimes as though a novel writes itself.
Do I know any more about the psychology of twins after writing it? Do you understand more by reading it? As in most of my stories, I have explored those themes that haunt me: the sometimes banal face of evil – the corruption at the heart of human nature that pushes us towards acts of betrayal, manipulation and annihilation. I like to keep my canvas small. We see those themes writ large on the world stage, and are shocked by the things we read and hear on the news, the crimes we all agree are beyond the pale. And yet, there in the closeted world of our family, those themes resonate time and again, and we are often blind to them. It can feel safer simply to ignore them. I guess in my novels I hope to open your eyes to see what I see, and remember we are each the sum of the choices we make. In the end, that’s how we are known and remembered.
You can find The Other Twin on kindle at Amazon The Other Twin