I have a grandmother in my new work. She started out as just a name in the first chapter. But she’s grown into a real person. Well, as real as fictional characters can be.
I'd been writing about how the mother of the main character always had flowers in the house. Freesias, yellow, white and purple, in the winter, and lilies in the summer. And then, out of nowhere, a grandmother popped up. Gran used to annoy her by asking who it was that had died. With that one sentence I could tell that she was going to be an interesting character. Today, we might say a grandmother with attitude. Back then--I think the book is set about thirty years ago, I haven’t worked out the exact time-frame—we might have said a feisty grandmother, although that’s not really the word I want, either.
Last week, I wrote some more. The grandmother, I haven’t given her a name yet, is small and bony. She wears soft, narrow skirts and blouses and cardigans, and has brown, bowed legs like a beetle. She’s forgetful; she can’t remember her granddaughter’s name from one day to the next, but she’s also smart, and resourceful. I’m quite respectful of her, although at this point I hardly know her. I do need to give her a name though; she won’t be a real grandmother until she has a name.
I’m talking about her here because I’m trying to work through her purpose in the novel, and why she's popped up. She makes a good foil for the main character, the little girl, and because she has time on her hands she observes and comments on the family. I also have this feeling that she’s going to have more of a role further down the track.
I’m not sure how I concocted her, she’s bits and pieces of women I've known or know. The pearls she wears come from my Granny Flo, who always wore pearls. The missing eyebrows that she draws in with a pencil come from my great Aunt Izzie, a spinster, a skinny, forthright woman who lived with my grandparents and that I vaguely remember from my childhood. The soft, narrow skirts and blouses come from women of a certain age, usually from an English background, that I see in places like the library, or the bank. The sort of women who, if it weren’t so hot, might carry gloves.
Because I was thinking about grandmothers generally, I started to think about my own. I had three, which isn’t as confusing as it sounds. Gladys, my father’s mother, died when he was about 21, so I never met her, but his father remarried and Granny Flo, who always wore pearls, became my grandmother. And then on my mother’s side, there was her mother, Ethel. I barely knew Ethel, either; she died when I was about fourteen.
Tim’s grandmother was called Marjorie. I met her number of times and liked her. One of the reasons I liked her was that she often said what she thought, which is what the grandmother in my work does. She was also very loving.
I don’t think the grandmother in my work is going to be called by any of those names. I’ll keep looking. It’s one of those things that I’ll know when I find.