Alison Croggon is the author of the young adult fantasy quartet, The Books of Pellinor. The first volume was nominated in two categories in the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction in December 2002 and named one of the Notable Books of 2003 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The Naming, Book 1, was named a Top 10 Teen Read by Amazon.com. The series has been released to critical and popular acclaim in the US, the UK and Europe. A new instalment of the Books of Pellinor, The Bone Queen, is due to be released in 2016/17. You can find Alison on Twitter or her website.
On Black Spring
I think Black Spring was one of those ideas that lay sleeping for a long time before I actually woke it up and started writing. I always begin with voices, and the first voice that happened was Hammel, the peevish wannabe literary guy who ends up being told the story of Lina and Damek by Lina’s servant, Anna. I wrote a few pages, and then realised that what I had written was a rhyme with the opening of Wuthering Heights. And then I put it away for a while and worked on other things.
I came back to it when I had a week’s residency with the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District in England, part of a tour of poetry readings organised by Australian Poetry. It was November, and the landscape was all these rich autumnal colours, and somehow it reminded me of what I had written. So, instead of writing poems, as I was supposed to, I pulled out those pages, wondering if there was anything there, and along came Anna, for me the major character in the book.
By then I had decided that I would like to do my own take on Wuthering Heights, conscious, of course, of how cheeky it is to retell someone else’s story; particularly a story by Emily Bronte. She was always my favourite of the three Bronte sisters: I read her poetry when I was a child, rather romantically isolated with my own three sisters in the country. I have always felt a strong pull of kinship to her. One of my earliest real poems – written when I was about 14 – was about Emily. http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/croggon-alison/emily-bront-0610009
It has long puzzled me that Wuthering Heights is widely regarded as a romance, and that Heathcliff is one of the great romantic heroes. It’s such a cruel book: some of the most frightening passages of domestic violence ever written are in that book. I found myself wanting to rewrite the story as a tale of friendship and love between women in the face of a violent society dominated by cruel male power. Of course, the drama is Lina’s relationship with the Damek, but for me the real story is the vexed but profound relationship between Lina, the passionate, wilful and aristrocratic witch, and her servant and foster sister, Anna.
Black Spring is a world of men’s power, in a country where vendetta, the law of an eye for an eye, rules supreme. Women are very much second class citizens, and a woman with magical powers, like Lina, is to be feared and, usually, killed at birth. Lina survives because she is an aristocrat, but after she loses the protection of her father, she is forced to buckle down, and she tries to live an ordinary life, with disastrous outcomes for everyone around her.
I deliberately didn’t reread Wuthering Heights until I had finished the first draft. I wanted Black Spring to be a homage to Emily Bronte, but I didn’t want to simply write the same book. I used the story-within-a-story structure, because there’s something about those Victorian novel structures that I really love, and I borrowed the outlines of the Cathy/Heathcliff relationship. But otherwise I followed my nose. It’s really a retelling of half of Emily’s story – I didn’t want to follow the second half of the book, which for me is just the earlier drama playing out. And the vendettas and the wizards play an important part in the plot, which obviously they don’t in Wuthering Heights.
Anna is a very different figure to Emily Bronte’s character – for one thing, she really loves Lina, and for another she’s well educated, one of the best read people in the district. And for me, Anna is the real heroine of Black Spring. She sees how her society won’t permit a powerful woman like Lina to exist, and in seeing that injustice she realises how she, too, is trapped, and by extension all women. I’m a bit sad that a lot of readers don’t really notice her. She’s kind of invisible, because she’s the narrator; but I think she’s a really fantastic woman!
I guess that Black Spring is, in many ways, a kind of essay on different kinds of love. There’s the passionate, possessive, destructive love between Lina and Damek, in which a person’s identity is totally consumed by the other person, and the quieter, more enduring and perhaps more loving love that Anna herself represents and finds. Anna is gifted and wise because she can both see and respect the otherness of the beloved.