This post is written as part of the Women's History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support the FableCroft Publishing Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the worldIn the previous Cranky Ladies post I talked about starting the story I'm submitting for this anthology. This time I'm going to move around another aspect of writing the story, one that's important to any narrative fiction: that is, figuring who the narrator will be.
Any story about Lilian Cooper automatically includes Josephine Bedford. They met as young women, somewhere around 1885 or 86, while Lilian was trying to figure a way into medical school, and as I mentioned, Josephine actually suggested a way to do it. When Lilian began her studies, Josephine decided it was time to enter the outside world too. She enrolled in a painting course in Slade School, and she and Lilian shared London lodgings. Thus began a friendship that, unlike many marriages, did last till death parted them, and then only when Lilian, her 50 year medical career over, retired at 80, and died 5 years later, in 1947.
The cover of the "official Lilian Cooper biography" has full face portraits of them both:
The smaller portrait of Josephine epitomises the official biographer's description of her as "dark-haired, small, sedate, but full of the joy of life." This face speaks to me of serenity, quiet rather than iron determination, and probably a strong if subtle sense of humour. It's the image around which I assembled my first vague notions, via a bath of data, into a hypothetical story arc. With that came the first problematic question: Who is this story's narrator?
Usually, narrators for my fiction find me, bringing the story with them. The trouble comes in building past the opening, "given" segment that the Black Gang, my creative crew, will suddenly land on me out of some Other Place. But with Lilian's story, I was left with a bunch of White Gang - the editorial component - questions about, Is it to be first person or third? Told from where? And whose pov should it be?
I considered third person, omniscient or otherwise. Then, Lilian herself as a narrator. Only the first scene's arrival showed the obvious choice: somebody who knew Lilian well, who lived with her on a day to day basis, someone who, though much less flamboyant, must have had amazing composure and equal determination, who could act as a foil to Lilian's masculinised persona, yet could reveal the complexities behind the brusque medical facade. Well, yes. Who but Josephine?
When the first words actually hit the page, they were almost inevitable. Lilian, driving somewhere, in her perennial haste to an emergency, Jo with her, doubtless as always. And a fresh confrontation heralded over Lilian's speeding:
“Damn and blast it, Jo, it’s that bloody Higgins again!”Once actually heard, Jo's voice functioned effortlessly, almost as she must have in real life: the quiet but neither passive nor obliterated partner, the one who probably nursed Lilian through her fractured skull after her buggy-horse bolted - and then assumed the job of driving Lilian on her rounds. The one who learnt to change tyres when Lilian bought her car; the one who almost certainly managed their home life, yet shared every social occasion, from play openings to medical association meetings to overseas trips. The one who maintained her own life as a social activist, who unfalteringly supported groups like the SPCA in Brisbane, and the Creche and Kindergarten Association, as well as sharing Lilian's medical interests.
“Now, dear, do try to contain yourself. The man’s only doing his job -!”