Category Archives: The Find

Third Person or First?

Extract from a notebook entry made during the writing of The Find

Choices, choices: the writer’s life is full of  them. Current example: do I stick with the third person, limited omniscient point of view which should ideally offer me some flexibility in telling the story, or, since I don’t seem to be actually using that flexibility, rewrite the  pages I have in the first person, from Anna’s point of view?
She is in an extraordinary situation, so it would open things up immeasurably if I could get right inside her… And why stop there with one first person?  What about two ‘first people’?  What about Scott?  Could I filter one character’s take on things through the other’s first person point of view or – since they are sometimes not in the same place as each other – would it be better to separate them out? Probably. But how will I deal with that long gap when one of them is out of the story?  And suppose I find,  later on, when the  different strands of  the story come together and everyone including all the extras are on set,  that I want to  use  the view points of  yet further characters  in the same way?
Anything is possible, of course. To pick just a couple of examples:  Matthew Kneale in English Passengers makes use of a  huge succession  of  ‘first people’  to tell the story, each picking the baton up from the last;  Andrea Levy in Small Island works fluidly with a smaller cast of first person  narrators… But the question is, what do I need to do  in this novel?
The only way to discover whether a first person narrator(s)  will actually work,  is to try it out –  and that of course, does not mean simply substituting ‘I’ for ‘she’ in 120 pages of text. It means re-imagining the story as told by my character(s) and discovering her/their relationship(s) to it, which inevitably will affect the story itself and even its final outcome. It means an entirely different novel….

Genetic Testing

As genetic tests are developed, more and more of us are being offered knowledge about our medical futures.

In The Find,  Anna Silowski, an intense,  ambitious  paleontologist at the peak of her career  struggles with that choice, and in the process finds herself inextricably involved in an ‘impossible’  relationship with school-drop out  Scott MacLeod – a relationship which,  against all odds,  transforms both their lives.

Would you  chose  to know your medical  future, the possibly devastating information coded in your genes?

Many of us  assume that if we were at risk we would like to know the facts. Yet most people in this situation still chose not to test.  Since there is no cure – and very little treatment – knowledge, here, is of dubious value, and that value depends on both circumstances and personality. Here, Charlotte Raven writes with great clarity about her own experience of testing for Huntingdon’s Disease.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jan/16/charlotte-raven-should-i-take-my-own-life

Here is another account:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/health/18huntington.html?pagewanted=6&ei=5090&en=7ce9d3291eab0b28&ex=1331870400&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

About one in 10,000 people in the US, Canada and UK have HD,  a disease which affects not only the sufferer, but also his or her entire family.  HD research is ongoing, and at a crucial stage. For further information, and if you wish to donate, here are links the HD  Societies in Canada, the UK and the US

http://www.huntingtonsociety.ca/english/index.asp

http://www.hda.org.uk/

http://www.hdsa.org/about/our-mission/what-is-hd.html

Huntington’s is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.  The child of a person with Huntington’s has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the disease.
The gene for Huntington disease is found on the fourth chromosome. A chromosome is composed of genes, and each gene is composed of a string of molecules called nucleotides. The nucleotides are adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The gene is made up of a series of three nucleotides which form the structure of DNA in the gene. Each gene has its own unique sequence of base pairs. In Huntington disease, the DNA sequence, CAG (cytosine-adenine-guanine), is part of this sequence. This sequence (called a “trinucleotide repeat”) may be duplicated up to 26 times in the general population. People with Huntington’s Disease may have from 40 to over 100 repeated CAG segments.
The increase in the size of the CAG segment leads to the production of an abnormally long version of the huntingtin protein. The elongated protein is cut into smaller, toxic fragments that bind together and accumulate in neurons, disrupting the normal functions of these cells. The dysfunction and eventual death of neurons in certain areas of the brain underlie the signs and symptoms of Huntington disease.
We do not know exactly how the repeated sequence causes Huntington disease, but research to develop therapies to treat Huntington disease is ongoing.

Research, for Heaven’s Sake!

Research for my novel The Find included visits to clinics, hospitals,  museums,  and paleontological sites.  I love  research, but sometimes I hate it too. Here’s an extract from a notebook I kept during  one of my trips to the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Suspended forty thousand feet above the Rockies I absolutely knew that I would die. Probably not soon, not this trip, but some time. It was not anxiety, not terror that the plane would crash, nothing panic-stricken or urgent like that. I simply sat there in the sky and thought: the fact is, I can’t avoid this thing.
It will happen – and very likely before I’m ready for it, since I can’t see myself ever not wanting to know and see what’s happening with the children and their lives and to be there to help as required… They will grow up and away and there will be so much of interest – no doubt problems too sometimes – but whatever happens it will be utterly compelling – and so, of course, I continued, beginning to feel now as well as think, how hard it will be to go when the time comes, how sad it will be to have to let go of them, not to see all of it, for ever…

I sat there in the sky and remembered how tears came to my mother in law’s eyes as she passed. I wished my husband and I had met and had children earlier, so that then I would (with luck, though you never know) have been with them longer. I sipped my iceless tomato juice and hated being away from my family and wondered why on earth I have involved myself to be drawn into this strange profession that takes me on bizarre trips like this one…. Research, for Heaven’s sake! Hopefully, I  thought, when you get closer still to death, philosophy does eventually console, but hell, I really don’t want to go there. I wondered: Does everyone think this when they get middle-aged, or is it just morbid old me? I didn’t feel I could ask the very large, short-of-breath man sitting next to me, so there was nothing for it to distract myself with a book.

An hour later, I was sitting in a hire car trying to work out what all the dials and buttons could achieve. It seemed more like a space ship than a car. I could heat the seats but there was no obvious way to turn on the inside lights. I spent another half hour circling the tangle of highways that surrounds the airport before I found the road I wanted and soon enough, left the outskirts of the city behind. So now, I’m on the road and should reach Drumheller in a couple of hours.

Last time I was here I found this landscape dull and ugly, but under a bright, pale blue sky it is transformed. The sun is low behind me. To the left the huge shorn fields, bordered here and there by the suggestion of a hedge, are all of different textures and shades of straw and yellow, some almost buff, some greyish, some buttery with hints of marigold. The land undulates more than I remembered – or perhaps, simplified like this, it just seems to do so. Here and there are the patchy remnants of the some snowfall, a scraping or a dusting of white, a half frozen creek. Towards the horizon, the land grows paler and is tinged with lilac and mauve. The ghost of a three–quarter moon hangs in the sky directly ahead of me and to my right is a ditch and then a bank where the snow is a little thicker; it is in shadow, and glows with an almost ultraviolet tinge.

A few cattle stand in these fields, or the occasional horse. The road vanishes suddenly at the top of a small rise, or disappears into an equally minor dip and it too is less absolutely straight than I remember it. The feeling in the plane is fading, changing. It is becoming a memory, something to tell people about. I’m on my way to the Badlands, almost there.  And yet part of me just wants to turn around and go straight home…

Royal Tyrrell Museum