Monday, 23 May 2011

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY - Genesis of a novel

Many holidays spent in the Outer Hebrides and on Skye fed into my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, about a textile artist who goes to live on the remote Hebridean island of North Uist. Alliteratively speaking, the novel is about memory, mountains and madness. I wrote it just for myself, without any thought of trying to find a publisher and the book became a repository for many of the things that interested me. 

People often ask me about the title. I came across the phrase "emotional geology" in a Buddhist book on depression. My heroine, Rose suffers from bipolar affective disorder and managing depression is a big issue for her.

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY is a book in which nothing much happens. All sorts of tumultuous events occurred in the past, but what the characters are actually dealing with in the present is fall-out. So I had the idea of using geology as a metaphor.

Rock is a concrete record of the past, of what happened to the Earth – a build-up of pressure, seismic upheaval, erosion. When you look at rock you're looking at layers of time. I think our minds and our memories are like that - a record of what we’ve been through and the toll it has taken, so the “excavation” of the past (which is what happens in the novel) becomes emotional geology. 

Here is an excerpt from the book. Rose describes her working day... 

"Sunday. God's day.

It seems impossible that the Hebrides could ever get any quieter, then Sunday comes around and even the wind abates. (Not the rain however which is a law unto itself.) The few people who are about are on their way to church, or visiting relatives. Even here there is a certain amount of traffic during the week - cars, a few lorries, the odd flock of sheep - then on Sunday everything stops. All you can hear is the wind and the sea and - if you're close enough - sheep urinating. It's peaceful but eerie. Time staggers to a standstill.

God would not approve, but I have been working hard today, buried under one of my periodic landslides of ideas. 

I am playing around with some ideas from Calum's book of poems, Emotional Geology. Geology is not a subject I have given any thought to before. The book he lent me is illustrated with beautiful aerial photographs of Scotland and brightly coloured diagrams. I realised the patterns formed by landslides and folds in rock would lend themselves to a quilted wall-hanging. I've made a few sketches and lots of notes. I can make something in three layers, then slice it into sections and re-assemble them – bingo, instant earthquake. Maybe some of the filling could protrude? (Or extrude as the geologists say.) And then of course the fabrics could be distressed for erosion. My mind is buzzing with ideas – cross-sections, layers, pleats, folds, distortions…
NINE ELEVEN, a quilt made by Linda
I am alive again. I can work, my senses are functioning, I'm noticing things. It’s as if I have woken up after a long sleep. A nightmare. 

I am me again. 

Calum’s little book has explained geological vocabulary to me, so I now understand the significance of the titles of his poems. Boiling rock, while still underground, is called magma. (His poem of the same name describes the suppression of grief-stricken rage.) Lava which cools slowly becomes a black rock called basalt. (Calum's Basalt is a poem of numb resignation and defeat.) 

I know so little about the earth on which I walk - know little and understand less. The mountains of Harris (visible from the north end of this island) are gently rounded hills, barely in the Munro category of three thousand feet, but apparently they were once as tall as the Himalayas. They are unimaginably old, some of the oldest rocks in the world, but they have been eroded by the elements until they are now gently curved, mere stumps of a once gigantic mountain range. 

A timescale I cannot possibly comprehend, a meaning, a purpose perhaps, that is beyond my understanding. It's somehow reassuring that there is something bigger out there, bigger even than the mountains.
I'm not sure what it is. Not God. 

Time, maybe?"

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