The making of ‘Filth’.
In my short story, Filth I wanted to play with the idea of how we can all be prisoners of convention. As a starting point I revisited Charlotte Brontë’s Jayne Eyre and in particular, the character of Bertha Mason, the first wife of wife Edward Rochester, who is confined to the attic as she is deemed insane. (a brilliant reimagining of Bertha’s side of the story was written in the novella, Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys.) I also re-read (The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gillman). The protagonist, Jane is also driven insane by her husband, John, who insists she takes ‘rest cure’ by doing nothing while confined in a room at the top of the house, covered in the aforementioned yellow wallpaper: a motif that I take a literary nod to in my story. “Black spores flowed from the trunk’s keyhole, clustering together. In no time the chair, windows and yellow wallpaper were completely swallowed.
I was further inspired by Perkin Gillman’s short story. Just as Perkin Gillman made something as innocent as the yellow wallpaper frightening, I wanted the dust in my story to become just as menacing. Equally, I was interested in using this device to trap my main character. Unlike Jane in the Yellow Wallpaper who becomes imprisoned by her husband, I wanted my character to become imprisoned by her own unrealistic desire to keep her home as impossibly pristine as possible, with her constant fear of dust never far from her mind.
The idea first came about with thoughts of how back in the day so many homes would have a ‘best room’ that was only used on special occasions, like Christmas or for when an unexpected guest, usually a posh relative would come round and for some reason needed to be impressed.
Just like Bertha, my character was driven insane by her surroundings, but unlike Jane, she would be constantly on the go, mainly cleaning or worrying about dust and more importantly what the neighbours would think, particularly when a mysterious, filthy trunk that appears in her home.
“There was no way she could ask any of her neighbours to help remove it, they would only gossip that her home wasn’t so pristine after all.”
From here on in the main details of the story began to form, but I couldn’t think of a suitable name to fit the character I had in my head. I tried out a few names: Charlotte? Joyce? Chrissy? Judy? Susan? Nope, none of them fitted in with what I thought she looked like and so I turned to my trusty, Wordsworth Dictionary Book of Names. It was then I found the name, Nettie; for me the name conjured up images of something being caught, which fitted in perfectly with my character’s constant need to capturer an dispose of dust.
As I progressed with the story, I realised I had the making of another story about a trunk that I had been struggling to make work; the story would eventually become the Brighton based story, Dead Famous that appears at the end of the Blanche Street collection
Next Saturday 22rd November 2014: Frank and the Faust influence.
You can download my short story, Filth, as a sample page for free and buy the e-book Blanche Street (where all the neighbours are a nightmare) by clicking the link below.