We wrap up our Issue 13 blog series about ‘absent characters’ with some thoughts from Laura Borrowdale on writing the unseen characters in her story ‘The Wasps’.
Laura is a teacher and writer based in Christchurch New Zealand. Her work has been published in Turbine, Sport, and Takahe, amongst others. She is the founding editor of Aotearotica.
Dealing With Not Knowing
I remember reading Emily Perkins’ ‘Story About My Wife’ when I was younger, and being thrilled by her portrayal of a man’s experience. I loved that idea of playing with inside the head of a narrator whose experience is so different to your own. We are so used to men’s voices being used to tell female characters, but for me, it felt a bit transgressive to inhabit the narrator of The Wasps.
As a writer, I habitually explore female experience, and this seemed like a chance to do the opposite. In fact, all the female characters in this story are fairly unknown. Usually in my writing I identify very strongly with the main character, but this story was different. I felt as though she was very like me, even though she is defined by someone else.
Part of what I found difficult to write about in the story was the lack of something. The partner in this story is an absence, and that was deliberate. The narrator can no longer see his partner and defines her by what he doesn’t know, or what he guesses, which is what allows him to treat her the way that he does. By being a blank space, she becomes a projection of his thoughts and feelings, and by extension, the reader’s. Part of what I wanted was to actively create that space in the text.
I’d love to think that the narrator’s partner does exist as a character in her own right, that she might feel real, and if she does, I think it is likely because of her absence, rather than presence. The narrator can never be sure what she is thinking, which is such a common experience. We all want to know what people think of us and, particularly, our partners and our partners’ thoughts about our relationships. We all have to deal with not knowing. Like the narrator.
We love how Laura evokes the long hot hot Wellington summer (remember that?) in this story. Read ‘The Wasps’ and 11 other gems in Issue 13.