There are several ways in which Debs and I meet new writer-friends, one being through the shared experiences of the April A2Z Challenge. Our reading interests overlap a great deal, as you might expect, and we share a great deal of admiration for this month’s guest, Melanie Atherton Allen. Melanie has an amazing imagination, and the way in which she is able to produce coherent bodies of work from multiple perspectives is a joy to behold. There is a temptation to compare some of her work to…well, I won’t say, because that would be to do Melanie a disservice. She is herself, and you should check out her ‘blaugh’ for yourself. But now, over to Melanie!
Thank you, David and Debs, for inviting me to do this! It has been a surprisingly difficult piece to write (because I am usually a 100% fiction kind of gal, and I’m actually not sure I even know how to write about me), but that made it all the more interesting to me as a project.
Interesting—and also really, really hard. Really, I don’t know how you memoir people do it! This essay is about the seventh or eighth time I’ve tried to approach the subject, which is supposed to be about me and my genre. How does my life intersect with my fiction? That should be sort of obvious, or so I thought.
And then I sat down and started probing. Sort of poking at my writing, this way and that, looking for the places where I came in. And I found plenty of me in my writing—my voice, my ideas, my interests, the whole life of my mind. But all I could say about that was “I seem to write what I like to read,” which, though a good working principle, isn’t exactly personal.
At this point, I panicked, and messaged David. He came back at me with a series of helpful questions, but there was one that really unlocked things for me. “That sounds great,” he said, “but perhaps you’d like to comment on your inclination to dress up as your characters?”
And then I remembered the pirate costume.
I suppose, before we get to the pirate costume, I should explain about my website, www.athertonsmagicvapour.com. I don’t call it a blog (though I sometimes call it a blaugh), because it is my understanding that blogs get updated regularly. With Atherton’s Magic Vapour, this does not happen.
What Atherton’s Magic Vapour does contain is several of my more eccentric creative projects. Many of these projects include pictures of me, dressed up as various characters. A good example of this is a thing called Alas!, which is a complete Edwardian-era mystery novella (50,000 words!) that I wrote during the 2015 April A To Z Blogging Challenge.
In Alas!, I tell the story of the murder of the wicked Lord Cadblister from the perspective of 26 different people (The Aunt, The Bastard, The Constable, The Doctor… etc.), and include a picture of myself, dressed up as each character, with each day’s chapter.
So, obviously, I do feel inclined to dress up as my characters. But why? I still don’t exactly know, but something happened when I started to think about the question. I seemed to see before me the image of a small girl. I see her still. She is impressively dirty. Her blonde hair is wild and tangled. Her ears are enormous and stick out surprisingly from her head. And she is dressed as a pirate. That would be me, age… well, I have no idea, actually. Let’s say I was eight.
It wasn’t a great pirate costume—just your basic red-and-white-striped shirt and black pants (both artistically tattered). It was made of that horribly thin Halloween-costume material, ideal for catching cold in on a dark October night. But that didn’t matter. In that costume, I was a pirate. I remember wearing it quite a lot, and I am sure I tried to wear it even more often. I probably tried to wear it to school but was thwarted.
Recently, I was going through an old file of childhood things when I came across a report from my childhood therapist. Yes, I was in therapy as a kid, because I had some fairly serious learning disabilities. Anyway, in this report, my therapist recorded my first meeting with her. I apparently looked at her, peered into her office, and announced, “I can’t bring my sword in there.” It was not a question. It was a statement.
The first appealing thing about this note was, of course, the fact that I apparently had a sword with me at my therapy appointment. I remember, alas, nothing of this incident, but I’m quite sure that the sword in question was the plastic cutlass which came with the pirate costume. So—yay small Melanie, for going to therapy armed and ready for trouble.
But the other thing that I find pleasing about this little snapshot from my sordid past is this: that I had an eye to the etiquette of the situation. I took one look at that office and said to myself, nope. No swords in there. I am sure that I was inhabiting the role of the noble pirate as I saw him. Interpreting the therapist as a lady well-disposed to pirates, I decided it would be wrong to come armed into her home. Or anyway, that is how I re-construct the thing now. It is, in any case, a narrative consistent with the sort of kid I was. I took everything with deadly seriousness. Everything.
Anyway, I feel that this story shines a light on why I love dressing up even now. It transforms. It turns a very confused little girl into a confident, yet polite, pirate.
© Melanie Atherton Allen, 2020 (Article and Photos)
© Fiction Can Be Fun, 2020 (Introduction)