Over to you, Pauline...
Suburban Terrors is a collection of twelve stories with thriller, supernatural and gothic elements and Cameron has asked me to write about the origins of one of those stories, Martha and May.
Strangely enough, for a story with absolutely no supernatural elements, Martha and May came out of a lesson on Magic Realism. As Magic Realism often revels in the shocking and macabre, our teacher asked us to write about the most bizarre thing we had ever heard of.
Only recently I had seen the BBC television series, The Secret Life of Twins, and one pair featured in that series were the American conjoined twins Lori and Reba Schappell. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lori_and_George_Schappell In their forties at the time, they were born joined at the head and shared part of their brain. Reba had spina bifida so she had to move on a specially devised wheeled stool, but Lori often had to carry her and this was putting a strain on her spine.
What I found bizarre was their absolute ordinariness despite the strangeness of their situation. In every other way they were like any two sisters. Despite their shared brain parts, they had completely different personalities and led separate lives. Reba was reserved while Lori was outgoing. Reba was artistic and had performed as a country and western singer. Lori was more of a homebody. (They’re actually even more different than that but, fortunately, I didn’t know that at the time. Heavens knows what I would have made of the fact that Reba, who had already changed her name from Dori to escape rhyming with Lori, has since identified as a man and is now called George. George has also become a Mormon while Lori hasn’t.)
Pondering how to build a story around such a pair of twins, I wondered what would happen if one had a boyfriend and the other got jealous. What would be the result if the jealous twin acted out that jealousy?
It was at this point that a second bizarre element entered the story. This time it was a case which had stayed with me since my youth, that of Karen Ann Quinlan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Ann_Quinlan As a young woman, back in the 1970s, again in America, Karen collapsed into a coma after taking a combination of drugs and alcohol while on an extreme diet. After several months, realising their daughter would never recover, her devout Catholic parents wanted to let nature take its course and they asked the hospital to take her off her life-support system. The hospital refused and the Quinlans had to drag the matter through the courts. When they finally got permission to take Karen off the machines, amazingly she survived though still unconscious. The last I heard of her, Karen was lying, shrivelled and comatose, on a nursing home bed. (She survived for another nine years.)
How did I combine these two strange cases? I’m sure you’ve guessed by now.
The final element, the twins’ names, came from my school days. The nuns loved to tell us the Bible story of Martha and Mary of Bethany. Whenever Jesus went to visit them, Mary would sit at his feet listening to him while Martha busied herself making him comfortable and preparing his food. One day Martha got annoyed that Mary wasn’t helping her, but Jesus rebuked her saying that it was Mary who was doing God’s work. Since the nuns were preparing us to be good wives, I don’t really know what point they were trying to make with this story!
Could I also take this opportunity to tell readers that I’ll be holding a book group discussion about Suburban Terrors on my Goodreads Group between September 1 and 12 (one day for each story). To join in you will need to become a member of my group at https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/114808 . In the meantime you might want to comment on this book tour, or put a question to me. I look forward to seeing you there.
Thank you, Pauline.
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