Good day ladies and gentlespoons!
I have the pleasure of presenting to you a guest post from Sarah Armstrong, author of the newly released novel The Devil In The Snow.
The thing that stood out to me the most while reading this book was the strong focus on mother and daughter relationships across generations of the same family, so I asked the author if she could tell us a little bit more about this.
Mothers and daughters
We think we know how the theme of mothers and daughters should play out. Everyone has an understanding of the way the relationship should be, with the adoring young daughter, resentful teenager and conciliatory adult. In The Devil in the Snow, my mothers and daughters have to navigate their relationships with each other, but under an unusual kind of pressure.
My main character, Shona, is repeating the same pattern of angry resentment with her daughter, Cerys, that was played out between Shona and her mother, Greta. Shona knows that unhealthy habits are being repeated, but can’t seem to break the pattern. Greta can see exactly what is going on, but Shona refuses to believe in the family curse. Who would want to believe that the devil was after their family?
The line, ‘But she hadn’t quite turned out to be that kind of mother, and Cerys wasn’t that kind of daughter,’ was one of those which floated into my head when I was thinking of other things. We have expectations, as reader, as parents, and as daughters, of what an ideal mother-daughter relationship should be like. There is a strong archetype of perfect mother-daughter pairs who go shopping and have lunch, a dynamic of strength in their similarities. Shona wants this with her daughter, but refuses to do the same for her mother. I use the theme of familial repetition in many different ways in the novel.
When we find fault in ourselves, we sometimes look back to see who can be blamed for our large feet or a tendency to stay in bed too long. Genetics link us back through time, way before we can start to follow the threads. However, for Greta, Shona and Cerys, inheritance isn’t just made of physical flaws, but an external and determined threat, chasing them through the centuries.
The idea of a family curse linked to inheritance can be traced, in my own life, to the metabolic illness within my own family and other families I know. Metabolic disorders are inherited and triggered by genes from both the mother and father, causing problems in the way energy is processed. These unknowable, unseen genes sit within our DNA for generations, silently being passed on, waiting for that pair to cause problems. The symbol of the devil becomes a way of looking at the real, physical world, and the threats we can pose to our children without even knowing. Neither Greta nor Shona want to believe the warnings, and so the cycle continues.
The relationship between the mothers and daughters in The Devil in the Snow is complicated by the same thing that complicated the relationship between the sisters in my first novel, The Insect Rosary. Their situations are made problematic by an unwillingness to learn from the past. Everyone is doing their best, but it isn’t until they start listening to each other that they become formidable and can finally face the true enemy.
Sarah lives in Essex with her husband and four children. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and she teaches creative writing for the Open University.