What if you’re the secret? (Or why I write about family secrets) – Noëlle Harrison

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By Noëlle Harrison

At the heart of all my novels is a family secret. The missing sister. A runaway mother. An absent father. The lost daughter. An illicit affair. These hidden relationships, all the complications and conflictions of them, drive my stories. My purpose always to show nothing is as it seems.♥

I am intrigued by the web of lies spun within every family, no matter how ordinary.  How these lies entrap. Bring about tragedies from misunderstandings and miscommunications. A whole lifetime married to the wrong person, or never meeting a parent, because of something unspoken. Losses and heartaches all the consequence of secrets. Most of them kept on the pretext of honour or keeping hearth and home safe. Is it part of the human condition to lie to protect? Or, is it our fear of being less than perfect that leads to hiding the truth. These conflicts motivate my characters in my attempt to portray emotional authenticity and intrigue the reader. What is the pivotal truth of my characters’ families?

I pose such questions in my new novel, The Gravity of Love. A story that encompasses two decades and two continents as a woman and a man both step back into the past and travel to find their own identities. The search for which draws them inevitably closer.

Why did Joy’s mother give her up for adoption?

What dark secret lies at the root of Lewis’ desperate childhood?

I write about family secrets simply because I am a secret family. A fact I did not fully comprehend until I was writing The Gravity of Love. Quite by chance, I found my sister and two brothers. A miracle in itself. I went on to discover my siblings had had no idea my other brother and I existed. It was like one of my own storylines!

My mother was unmarried, and raised us on her own. My childhood was growing up as the daughter of a housekeeper. I learnt to be quiet, as servants should be, meld into the wallpaper, and watch. At times privy to the dramas and secrets of another family. The sense of not  fully belonging wherever I lived, of looking into family life from the outside, has been an element in my development as a writer.

All families possess secrets worthy of a novel. But being too close to the secret can have its problems. I would never write a book retelling the exact story of my lost siblings because my relationships with them are too precious to risk for the sake of a good story. I know other authors struggle with balancing autobiographical and fictional elements in their novels. It is important to remember that though the novelist might have no problem with exposure, family members can be more private. It is easy to offend or cause familial splits. Respect is key.

Those moments in life when secrets are revealed (and believe me EVERY family has them) can completely confound us. A parent, or partner or even child was not the person we thought they were.  Who are they really? This sense of revelation is a feeling I try to evoke in my writing, as the reader uncovers the truth.

Questions are not necessarily answered when the truth comes out. I have never fully understood why my brother and I were secrets. One of my recurring themes is redemption. Was this displaced from my own personal experience? Certainly, the initial impulse for writing The Gravity of Love was to redeem my father through the character of Lewis Bell. In this way, the process of writing had a healing aspect to it. One of the concepts of The Gravity of Love is the truth will always out. I really do believe this as has been evidenced by my own life. It is the lying, not the secret itself, that does the damage.

Above all the meaning I intend to release to my readers is simply the power of love. There is a natural force I like to call gravity pulling those we are meant to love to us. This is how I explain my discovery of my lost siblings. My love for them was immediate, and unconditional. As if the secret between us rolled away like a huge boulder unblocking in essence the true value of what we all were. Sisters and brothers.

Noëlle Harrison is the author of Beatrice, A Small Part of Me, I Remember, The Adulteress & The Secret Loves of Julia Caesar. Her Valentina trilogy was published under the pen name Evie Blake. Noëlle featured in the National Gallery of Ireland anthology and exhibition Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art. She has lived and worked in Ireland, London, Norway and now Scotland where she is completing a creative writing Masters at Edinburgh Napier University, and is a founder of Aurora Writers Retreats. Noëlle’s new novel, The Gravity of Love, is published by Black and White Publishing and is out now.


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