by Susan Tepper
Claire King is an English author, best known for her novel The Night Rainbow. She currently resides in Languedoc-Roussillon, France with her husband and children. [Wikipedia]
Susan Tepper: If you had birthed sons, rather than your two lovely daughters, would you still have written “The NIGHT RAINBOW”?
Claire King: What an interesting question, Susan. Nobody has ever asked me that before.
Your question talks to the personal experiences I have had which inform the themes I choose to write about (I’m assuming). Many of the characters and themes in The Night Rainbow are the negative (in a photographic sense) of my own experiences. So, for example, my own experience of being mothered was extremely positive: My mother is one of the strongest people I know, in terms of her ability to put caring for others above her own suffering, even in a very oppressive environment. Joanna, the mother in The Night Rainbow, turns that paradigm on its head. Not only is she unable to cope, but her surroundings are, by contrast, seemingly idyllic.
There are, however, experiences which directly inform the story, and these admittedly would include my experience as a mother.
So to answer your question about birthing sons. I’m certain that The Night Rainbow in some form would still have emerged. Up until the moment of having children, my life experience would have been the same, and it’s sure that the first 33 years of my life count for a lot in the novel I chose to write. Would the protagonist still have been a 5 year old girl rather than a five year old boy? I don’t know.
My own daughters have very different characters, and I can’t say that either one is particularly masculine or feminine. I’m not even sure if that is a distinction I would draw with anyone’s character. They are both highly interested in the world around them, which for us, often, is the natural world. I suspect that if I had had boys they would have been the same. But they would have been different people, so who can tell?
And all children, for sure, need parental love, and can be resourceful if that is somehow missing from their lives. The Night Rainbow really isn’t about being a little girl, it’s about being part of a complex, sometimes unfathomable world of human complications.
ST: Do you feel Maman (as she is called in the book) is a manipulative mother?
CK: Every reader has a different take on Maman. People have written to tell me that she is despicable, that her behaviour is unforgivable, how they dislike her. Others have written to say how much they identified with her and the battles she is fighting. That they wanted to help her as much as they wanted to help Pea. Each reader brings their own experiences and perspectives to the table and it will colour how they judge this character.
ST: Absolutely. I personally felt for the mother, perhaps because of having grown up in a large Italian extended family where dramas of one sort or another were an everyday occurrence.
CK: I have my own points of view, which you can probably glimpse in Pea’s narration, but I’m not sure they are important. I did not intentionally write Maman to be manipulative, but that doesn’t mean that some readers won’t see that in her behaviour.
ST: Would this be an entirely different story had it been told in an urban setting?
CK: I read the novel Clay by Melissa Harrison this year. Each of our stories has a young child as a central protagonist. In each the child is missing parental love and attention. And in each the child turns to an adult man, a stranger, to meet those needs. In Melissa’s story the child is a boy and the setting is a depressed, inner city apartment block. I mention this because, regardless of the setting, many people have drawn parallels between our two stories.
Both certainly look to show the strength and tenacity of children in difficult circumstances. Both treat loneliness. In The Night Rainbow, Maman and Pea (and Claude) are isolated both physically and emotionally. In Clay, the characters suffer similarly, despite living in the midst of a city.
I chose a bucolic setting for The Night Rainbow for two reasons. The first was to allow the reader to live with Pea for a while in a seemingly idyllic landscape – a long hot summer with meadows to explore, streams to paddle in and fresh peaches to eat. I wanted readers to feel the magic of the place through a child’s eyes, whilst still appreciating the threatening aspects we can only see as adults. My other motivation was to explore how human struggles and tragedy can sometimes overshadow even the bluest of skies.
I don’t believe this would have been an entirely different story had I set it against an urban backdrop, but I think it would have been relentlessly dark, and possibly lacking in dimension.
ST: I believe the bucolic setting you chose was the perfect one for the story you chose to write in The Night Rainbow. Even your title— a bright rainbow in the night’s darkness that seems to cradle the book in an arcing sweep of colored bands. A beautiful book and highly recommended.
Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com