If you were one-half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?
That’s the provocative question posed in A Little Bird Told Me, the debut novel from Marianne Holmes. I’m delighted to welcome Marianne to Colloquium to discuss her story of a family that is “all about secrets,” according to narrator Robyn. In the summer of 1976, Robyn was nine years old. She tells the story of the events that forever changed her family. Twelve years later, at the age of 21, Robyn returns with her older brother, Kit, to their family home to confront the secrets that led to tragedy.
The Inspiration for A Little Bird Told Me
The characters of Robyn and Kit initially stepped off that train in a slightly spooky short story that I wrote to read out at my writing group. The story about an emotionally damaged Robyn and her brother Kit returning to a town that felt full of menace and secrets prompted questions that I didn’t know the answer to myself.
I set about working out exactly what Robyn was up to, how she had got her mysterious scar, and why Kit was against their return. I wrote pretty much as the fancy took me and out of the sheer joy of writing and creating (or “making stuff up,” as I call it). The part set in 1976 was primarily written as back story but it gradually expanded and wormed its way into the rest.
By the time I thought it might just possibly be a novel, I had a very large cast and a wild tangle of plot details and events to unpick. I’m pretty sure you won’t see this approach in creative writing courses any time soon! It probably was, though, the only way I could do it. I’d started novels previously and been derailed by my resistance to working out the complete plot before I started. This way I was able to sneak up on it.
I chose the heatwave of 1976 for the younger Robyn simply because I had very strong memories of how that summer felt as a child. It was particularly vivid for me because we’d been living in Germany for two years, so it was a shock to return and find the green fields of Sussex so parched. It was thrilling for us children to be outside so much but over time it drained the energy of anyone with work to do and tempers were easily frayed.
It was also the year of the United Kingdom Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 that first provided legal protection to female victims of domestic violence, five years after Erin Pizzey opened the world’s first refuge for women and children escaping domestic violence in Chiswick, London, in 1971.
The setting is not based on any one place but rather represents the general claustrophobia and conservatism of some small towns. Robyn’s family were identified as being “different” by the rest of the town and this sharpens her feelings of disconnection when she returns. I used my own experience of moving between Royal Air Force bases as a child to understand her conflict; should she try and conform to fit in or stay apart and protect herself from the loss she’ll feel when she and Kit inevitably leave?
But, more than anything, I just wanted to write a story that readers might be able to sink into for a few hours for enjoyment, for escapism or for fun. I hope it does one of those things for you.
Marianne Holmes was born in Cyprus to parents who were members of the Royal Air Force, and bounced between the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, and Belgium before settling in London – well, apart from years in the Peak District.
A love of language led her to earn degrees in Classics and Linguistics from the University of London. Her desire to pay the mortgage steered her to a career in Marketing. After distracting herself in all sorts of ways over the years – sailing, flying, plastering, consulting, volunteering, and running away to India – she is now concentrating on writing. And ensuring that her children are fed, clothed, and entertained.
A Little Bird Told Me is Marianne’s debut novel.
Thank you, Marianne!
Click here to read my review of A Little Bird Told Me.