In Mind the Gap, I present women with foibles, blind spots, secrets, doubts, unexpected strengths, who nevertheless manage to push their way through to a better life.
In the Audible version of Mind the Gap, I do the narration and perform all 45 characters – which means performing women’s as well as men’s voices. It was great fun for me to perform the women’s voices. It also taught me more about female characters, as if they were revealed from one scene to the next, a veil slowly drawn away from their face.
I would never compare myself to Alec Guinness, but I remember enjoying Kind Hearts and Coronets, a black comedy from 1949, in which he played nine different characters from Ethelred, the 8th Duke of Chalfont to Etheldred’s surviving sister, Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne. So, Alec Guinness portrayed women as well as men. Let’s say Alec Guinness was in the back of my mind when I embarked on the audio-book version!
Several readers have told me Grandmother Grieve is their favourite character in Mind the Gap. She has white hairs on her upper lip that bristle when she gets annoyed. Her stomach has a way of gurgling. She scares the daylights out of people when she gets behind the wheel of the family car. She has fantasies of some exalted social standing for her family. She often has good judgment about people and situations – but not always! When she sees something wrong, she comes right out with it. She’s not in the glamour mode, like some fleeting embodiment of anyone’s unattainable desire – she’s a flesh-and-blood Angel of the Lord brandishing a sword!
I really dislike the way women are portrayed in popular culture nowadays. We are deluged with images of glamour, depicting women as objects of desire, which means they are supposed to embody someone else’s fantasies and never be themselves; women in popular culture are generally young; they have hot spontaneous sex but never get pregnant; in many crime movies, the women’s only role is to be beautiful and get strangled by some psychopath. Of course, women are not always shown like that.
In Mind the Gap, the characters have to get through difficult, confusing situations. Richard Grey – the main character – experiences anxiety and trauma in high school. Mother Augusta has health problems. Chloé Trahan goes off to Paris to study but doesn’t really enjoy it. It is never too clear where Father Reginald stands on anything.
It takes Richard quite a while to “clue into” women. He’s inside a bubble as a child. He gets into situations accidentally. He evens succeeds accidentally at whatever he’s doing, often without having an overall plan.
High ideals can give you vertigo. I mean, if you idealize other people, or work situations, or what it means to do anything – writing a book for example – then you may get all hot and sweaty as you anticipate (fast forward) or you may feel cool, bitter regret or disillusionment (rewind). Whereas, the real place to be is in the present moment here and now (play), which means accepting yourself as you really are, and accepting others as they really are too.
There’s trauma in the novel, but there’s also catharsis, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” And when catharsis comes about for no apparent reason – just because – people end up laughing.
I like Jewish humour because it’s gritty, gutsy, it has bite, it’s all about survival.
I have already lived through four of my nine lives, so I would rather laugh about it than cry. Maybe, my four “lost” lives have taught me to be more careful about what I do with my five “remaining” lives….