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On Belonging

This is a blog that's been circling me for a day or two, about themes and the like, and where they come from. What we take from our own selves and put into our books, sometimes unconsciously.

As many of you know, I'm from Northern Ireland, that divided little part of the world that challenges and rewards, often in equal measure. Many people think the divisions here are over religion - and they do, indeed, follow religious lines - without realising the deeper rifts that drive them. Our culture, our upbringing, our beliefs. Our need to belong.

Belonging is important here. You belong to a community. You might well belong to a religion. You belong to the UK, or Ireland or, increasingly it seems, Northern Ireland (where I have always put my identity and sense of belonging). It's important to work out where you belong, here, in the maelstrom of myriad beliefs. And it's important to recognise others have their own right to belong to wherever - or whatever - they chose to.

I suppose that belonging and the working out where I sat within it were central to my understanding of myself. And, with it being a central part of me, it's probably not surprising its a recurrent theme in what I write.

What is more surprising - to me - is where that theme emerges. It is, of course, in Inish Carraig. John and Henry, and Josey, spend lots of time working out their allegiances, what matters and what to fight for. In Waters and the Wild you'll see Amy struggling to work out her identity, separate from that imposed on her.

I might always have expected that theme to emerge in my Irish work. I might argue my other-worldly works stand apart from my understanding of Northern Ireland, but they're really quite entwined in it. Just because my work lies in the realm of genre fiction doesn't remove their relevance as works set in and about Northern Ireland and its people. I may have no desire to write the Great Norn Irish novel but I don't want to hide my voice from the community that shaped it either.

What I didn't anticipate was how important, and central, the theme of belonging is in my Abendau books. Abendau, my world a million miles from NI. Abendau, a place I escaped to, that had no connection to the real world. Abendau that is, still, the most personal thing I wrote, that was the first book I wrote and, as with most first works, the one I was passionate about and closest to.

When I wrote Abendau's Heir I struggled to tell anyone what my theme was - it was too close for me to see it. That is what writing does and is, an exposure of what is central to us, even if we didn't feel it needed to be exposed.

Kare searches, throughout the trilogy. He is a cuckoo, he belongs nowhere. Even with his family, they are nomads in space, not anchored anywhere but with each other (family is another theme of mine, it seems - as summed up by Bryan Wigmore in this review I close him off from the world he is brought up in and remove from him the possibility of belonging. When he reaches the Banned, he never fully fits in. It is Sonly and Lichio's home, never Kare's. And he rejects Abendau, and his mother's palace, utterly.

I always knew I waes writing about a cuckoo. I just never knew why.

I won't spoil about where things go but I do believe identities. In fact, that is what book 3 - and therefore the trilogy - is all about. Where people fit. Choosing it for themselves. The freedom that comes from being in the place you fit and the bravery it sometimes takes to find that place. That there are no easy answers and you can't just be given a destiny or heritage that will solve everything - no matter how alluring that may feel.

Which means this week, I learned something new - that Abendau is as rooted in my Northern Ireland as anything else I write. Which gives it a heart and a soul I never fully realised as mine.


Nice blog post! As someone who grew up between two countries with very different languages and cultures (England and Brazil), identity and belonging were always an ongoing topic in my own mind, and I think this comes out in my own work, too. Nice to know I'm not alone in this!
acflory said…
A little bell went off in my head when I started reading this post because themes have emerged in my writing too, themes I really didn't expect. At all.

As a gamer for more years than I care to mention, I've always known that what you see is not what's really there, and I don't mean just 'places' and 'storylines'. Even gamers who don't roleplay take on avatars, so the question of identity, real identity, is always an issue.

I thought I was okay with the mismatch between online reality and real reality, so no one was more surprised than me when one of the major themes of Innerscape turned out to be identity. Not identity as in 'belonging' but identity as a form of...truth?

I guess we take ourselves wherever we go, even into the stories we create. :)
Joanne Zebedee said…
I think themes do carry over, especially our underlying themes, the ones that we maybe focus on without knowing. I think if someone told me to sit down and write a book about beloinging it would be a disaster. But it creeping in works well.

The gamer community is interesting as there are so many ways of hiding identity. I know what limited online games i do play I do so under an avatar. Not that I feel a need to hide, per se, but that my Hayday farm is kind of an escape.

Ju, I see that duallism in your facebook profile etc where you switch between the two languages and communities so seamlessly. It brings something unique to you, I think. :)
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