The Whole Bright Year
began with me thinking about the urge we all feel to protect the people we love – to protect them from suffering and the dangers of the world and sometimes to save them from themselves. I started cooking up a story about an anxious mother, Celia, and her 16 year old daughter, Zoe, living together on a peach orchard. When Zoe falls in love and runs off with one of the fruit-pickers, Celia abandons the farm to go searching for her child. As I scribbled pages of notes, it struck me that I was sub-consciously writing a version of the Demeter and Persephone myth.
This often happens: the ideas I was playing with have existed for thousands of years and bits of them had implanted in my humble mortal head long before. Decades ago in this case. When I was an 8 year old kid, I would march into the Burnside Public School library every week and borrow several volumes in the series ‘Myths and Legends of the World’. I loved them all – Norse, Celtic, Middle Eastern, and of course Greek myths.
Demeter was the goddess of the crops and the harvest, keeping the earth abundant with growing things. She had a beloved daughter, Persephone, who was out collecting flowers one day when she was carried off by the king of the Underworld. Demeter was overcome with grief, wandering the earth, searching for her child, neglecting the crops and refusing to allow the earth to bloom. As every growing thing withered and died, people starving, Zeus stepped in to negotiate a solution. It was agreed that Persephone could spend 6 months of the year living on the earth with her mother but she must spend the other 6 months in the Underworld. Every year, during the months Persephone stays in the Underworld, the goddess Demeter mourns and makes the earth barren, allowing little to grow. Then when Persephone returns to her mother each spring, the earth blooms again with fertility, warmth and abundance.
It’s much more than a simple tale about the origin of the seasons, and there have been many versions - Greek myth, Homer, Ovid, Tennyson, and even older pagan goddess legends. Something about the story always grabbed me - a teenage girl being carried off in a chariot, the earth splitting open to take her down to a dark and mysterious underworld.
I still love reading myths and folk tales. I believe human beings are built to vibrate to certain story shapes which is why some tales keep bubbling up in different centuries across many cultures. And if I can harness the power of those deep primal stories in my own humble storytelling, well, I’ll do it.
I should say that you don’t need to be familiar with any of that stuff to enjoy The Whole Bright Year
and it wouldn’t be obvious at all. My characters are real, struggling human beings and the story is told in a grounded, sometimes funny, realist way. Hopefully I haven’t wrecked your reading enjoyment by putting flashing lights around those references! But I also hope I’ve stolen enough of that ancient story to capture your imagination the way it captured mine. The myth is a wonderful way to tell an earthy contemporary story about sexual discovery, parents worrying about their kids, people unable to tell people what they really feel, about anxiety, foolishness, danger, lust and sacrifice – all the good stuff!