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Author of the Month

January 2009 Author of the Month

This month our Author of the Month, Carol Topolski answers questions from The Monday Night Reading Group from The Dunfermline Carnegie Library, based in Fife.

The Monday Night Reading Group have been reading Carol's latest book Monster Love

1. Why did you decide to give such a gritty drama book a fantasy ending?

Hmm, yes - you're not the first people to raise this.  As you know, Brendan and Sherilyn have a way of relating to each other that exclusively boundaries them, where there's no room for thinking about or empathising with anyone else - in particular, their daughter.  When they're convicted and incarcerated in separate prisons they both fantasise that the relationship continues in a lived, present way and they become, to all intents and purposes, psychotic.  There's a lovely way of describing the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic which you may know:  neurotics build castles in the air and psychotics live in them.  Well, Brendan  and Sherilyn come to live in these airy castles and have lost touch with everyday reality.  Their combined (mad ) fantasy is that they can be reunited in death.  So in that sense, the ending is fantastic, but not in any sci-fi way.  But I may have failed to convince you of that.  The book's been put on reading lists for various psychotherapy trainings, so it may be that it's just one shrinky step too far!

2. Although you are a psychotherapist yourself, there was no 'testimony' in the book from such a professional or similar.  Is there a reason no psychologist or psychiatrist was used?

Yes - various reasons.  I was so keen not to pillage my patients' lives for material (consciously at least - unconsciously, what they've taught me is very much part of my history and will have seeped in), I probably tried to avoid pillaging my own.  There was always going to be a risk that the novel was too psychoanalytic (see above) so dipping myself out of it, as it were, was one way of sidestepping the risk of it being seen as a straightforward case history.  The other reason  is that there were too many damn characters!  Three accounts got lost in the editing process (one of whom I mourn, but she'll appear somewhere else probably), so economies had to be made to keep the structure tight.  I think even the dramatis personae that survived is rather crowded for some readers.

3. The author does not use inverted commas or other indicators for direct speech. Please could you explain why?

This was slightly in the face of Penguin house style, but I wanted to keep the flow of the stories uninterrupted.  When someone gives an account to themselves of something that has happened to them, they don't separate speech from feelings or thoughts, so I wanted to hang on to that internal integrity to give the sense of how the teller experiences the tale.  You may be pleased to know that the next novel is entirely conventional in terms of its punctuation!

4. Why did you choose to write about such a horrific subject and have you met anyone who you thought would be capable of behaving that way?

One of Ingmar Bergman's films talks about the 'hour of the wolf', which I've always found a useful term for that time just as night is ending and the day is beginning, when you have your worst imaginings.  For me - and I can't be unique - the worst thing I could possibly imagine was something happening to my children, so I steeled myself to explore it.  Child killers are (maybe properly) the ultimate pariahs in our society, and as such are repudiated by any ordinary person. That repudiation often takes the form of calling them monsters - or beasts -  as though that way we can separate them off from our world  and obviate the need to think about them.  I wasn't interested in excusing or exonerating Brendan  and Sherilyn - what they've done is truly monstrous - but in struggling to understand why  they've done what they've done. What had gone on - was going on - inside them and between them to make them do what they've done.  Why it seemed to both of them to be a necessary thing.  Maybe one day I'll write a comedy, but for the time being I'm interested in exploring the dark side of humanity and its complications.  Louise Bourgeois once said 'happy people don't have stories', and while I don't entirely agree with her, happiness is sometimes a simpler thing than unhappiness.

5. Have you ever come across two people who appear to communicate so well when apart?

Well, twin studies tell us that communication at an unspoken level can happen between two individuals, and while I'm plainly not going to talk about any of my patients, there are interesting ways in which people can be in touch with each other at an unconscious level that may seem spooky.  Between therapist and patient for example - or a mother and her infant.





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