Today’s Nelson mini-interviewee is Ellen Lindner, author of Undertow, and editor of newly-announced The Strumpet. Her contribution takes place in 1970, focusing on Nel’s mother Rita. One of the most affecting chapters in the book, we see Rita continue to internalise her anguish of losing a child via diary entries and her interactions with those around her.
Your chapter employs a novel narrative technique, with narration boxes appearing as scraps of Rita’s diary. What was your intention for this device?
I’m glad it seems novel! I knew I wanted to tell the story of an emotional transformation that would have been on the interior, private – a diary seemed the best way forward. With four pages to work with, it helped me to establish Rita’s frame of mind with the reader very quickly. Plus, I love diaries! All those secrets…
More so than any other creator, you really made Rita the focus of your story. What inspired you about the character?
It wasn’t so much Rita herself as what happened in Woodrow’s story, where it’s revealed that one of Jim and Rita’s children has died. I couldn’t just let that pass. Nel would be too young, maybe, to feel the loss, and Jim had support from his mate Des. But what about Rita? That question shaped the story I decided to tell. Another factor was timing – I wrote it over the Christmas holidays last year in my in-laws’ home, surrounded by pictures of my husband and his brother as young children. That made it impossible to ignore the question of what it would be like celebrating a birthday, or holiday, when you’ve lost a child. Grim stuff, but it’s life – and I can always say that Woodrow made me do it!
Although she certainly communicates verbally in your chapter, yours is the last to feature a Nel too young to speak. Did you feel liberated or constrained by this?
It was more of a constraint – it made me look to other family members. But that’s fine – the rest of the book tells Nel’s story, I was proud to have the chance to tell part of the story of where she came from. I like to think that my chapter has a happy ending, even if the beginning is sad.
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