Trinity Street (Post 84)
Trinity Street (1997) is one of my favourites. Shortly after it was published, I wrote an article called The Road to Trinity Street which was published in Viewpoint Magazine.
I still have the article, so I decided to reproduce it here. Bear in mind it's almost as old as the book it discusses.
THE ROAD TO TRINITY STREET
By Sally Odgers,
Science fiction is often seen as a masculine genre, a combination of violence, planets and whiz-bang technology. The best science fiction may have some of these aspects, but it will also include strong characters and provocative ideas.
Children's books are often seen as the soft option, the books you write if you’re not up to being a novelist. That might have been true once, but children's books came of age long ago, and now you'll find just as many strong ideas, just as much love and just as many tears in books for children or teenagers as you'll find in any modern adult novel.
There are two lessons in life that seem to me to be very hard. One is that sometimes it's impossible to tell right from wrong and that whatever you do, someone will be hurt. The other is that life isn't always a contest between good and evil, or morality and immorality, but between two different aspects of good, and two different faces of morality.
Is it moral to kill an unborn child simply because its birth would be an inconvenience?
Is it moral to expect a woman who has made a single mistake to carry a baby to term and then give it up for adoption?
Is it moral to expect a raped teenager to carry her child to term?
Is it moral to kill that child because its father is immoral?
Is it moral to preserve one badly damaged infant while a dozen genetically superior children are never allowed to be born?
Is it moral to nurse an injured murderer back to health and then hang him?
Is it moral to preserve the life of a brain-damaged person when his or her organs might allow dying children to live normal lives?
I don't expect any of you to answer these questions because I can't answer them myself. I don't see how anyone can answer them in absolutes. Perhaps the fairest thing to say is this. It all depends.
On the other hand, there are plenty of folk out there (and you might be one of them!) who believe implicitly that there is only one right answer to each of these questions and that that answer can and should be made. I might say; "don't impose your morals on me!”
If we all said that the result would be total anarchy with some of us believing in our absolute right to make our own decisions, no matter who else might be affected.
I feel very uncomfortable with these ideas, and so two years ago I set out to exorcise some of them by writing a novel. Yes, it's science fiction. Yes, it's for children (or teenagers, at least). Yes, it deals with some harsh subjects. But I hope it might make a stand as a plea for tolerance, as a forum for thought, and as a bloody good read as well!
The novel is called Trinity Street, and here's the way it came about.
For some time I had been wanting to write a science fiction novel about three characters caught up in a shifting relationship. Finally, in March 1995, I found myself a window of opportunity and made a start. I chose two girls and one boy as my protagonists, but I didn't want to write any variation on the traditional triangle, and I didn't want to write a teen romance. I wanted a story that would be both plot-and character driven.
I already had the germ of a plot in mind. I read a snippet that suggested the current trend which sees university-educated couples having few or no children might one day cause a drop in average world intelligence. To this I added my own theory that childhood immunisation may reverse the rule of survival of the fittest and leave our descendants with poorer natural health than we have now. Take this germ and add the following premise; what if our descendants made an effort to reverse these trends by persuading people with good health and superior ability to produce more children? And what if these genetically superior (HI-Q) children had trouble finding acceptance in the wider community of IQ-normals?
Having this skeleton of a plot, I named my major characters and chose their attributes to complement one another.
Girl 1. Estelle Clancy. Known as Tell.
Fifteen years old. Almost plain. Parents divorced.
Tell is the result of the clashing genes of a tidy, cool, perfectionist father and a warm-hearted, slapdash mother. She has inherited some character traits from each parent, with the result that "Tell was often at war with Tell. And unlike her parents, the two halves of Tell could not file a divorce and go their separate ways."
Salient characteristics include a strong organising/caring aspect, moderate intelligence and more than moderate tenacity. Tell is an excellent swimmer and will become a strong woman - if she lives that long.
Girl 2. Camena de Courcey.
Fifteen years old. Beautiful. Adopted as a baby, adoptive parents died when she was thirteen. Now lives with her elder sister's family.
Camena has a genius IQ, but is retiring and socially awkward. She suffers occasional migraines. She and Tell Clancy make an odd couple, but their friendship works because Tell loves to look after Camena and because Camena needs a visible friendship to help her feel and appear more normal. Camena has everything - and nothing. Almost everything about her is ultimately contra-survival.
Boy. Gerhardt Watchman a.k.a. DHQ #49. or Daichcue Forn.
Eighteen years old, but claims to be fifteen. Gerhardt is a child of the 27th century, the result of a breeding programme known as Donor HI-Q.
Trained from babyhood as a "recovery operative", Gerhardt's task is to travel back to the late 20th century and "recover" Camena de Courcey from the site of a potentially fatal accident so that her valuable genetic heritage won't be lost. His cover story is that he is a bodyguard sent by her unknown natural father to preserve her from a kidnap threat. Gerhardt is an expert at protective colouration, but although he appears to be an attractive and self-confident young man, his inner loneliness could destroy him.
Only later does the truth begin to emerge, and some of it is as much a shock to Gerhardt as it is to Tell. Camena never does learn the truth.
This slow disclosure to the reader involved Gerhardt in telling ...
(a) a cover story designed to convince Camena but leave Tell and the reader sceptical.
(b) what he himself believes is the whole truth, but which Tell doesn't accept.
(c) the whole truth as he finally learns it - a truth which destroys his trust in his own world and leads to Camena's apparent death. It also leads to exile for himself and for Tell.
Trying to remember how much each character knew at any given time, and which parts of their knowledge were "true" and which were distorted fact or complete fabrication, kept me on my mental toes throughout the ten weeks it took to write the novel. I covered pages with notes and memos to myself, and spent ages plotting and rewriting backwards whenever I got a better idea.
Every Yin needs a Yang, so I invented RI.P., an organisation trying to prevent genetic recoveries on the grounds that such interference was dangerous and immoral. Trying to present a fair case for the two opposing philosophies was a big challenge, and so was the creation of the three main characters. Each had to be flawed in some way, but each had to be attractive enough to involve the reader in their adventures.
The novel ends with Camena's apparent death, and with Tell and Gerhardt time-travelling to the future to escape both RI.P. and Gerhardt's foster-father/mentor. To return to Tell's time or to Gerhardt's will be the death of them, and they don't know which year they've reached. And - not only are they stranded on an island in the far future, but they're not even together! Only their telepathic link, Tell's habit of survival and their own strong faith in one another hints at a qualified happy ending.
A few examples follow;
Tell’s name. I wanted a name that could be unusual without being weird. Also a name that would hint at Tell's duality of character. Estelle is unusual but not odd. It means "Star". Tell on the other hand could mean either a story or a grave. My mother once had a friend called Estelle Douglas. Her nickname was Tell. My Tell's surname, Clancy, is borrowed from Clancy of the Overflow. It is also an Irish name, and hints at a strong streak of Celtish iron in Tell's character.
Camena de Courcey’s name comes from two different sources. I once met a girl called Camena when I was conducting school workshops. I asked her about it, and she told me it was a Tasmanian place name. I thought then how pretty it was and how well it fits with our usual naming stock. It also fulfils the criteria of being unusual without being overtly odd. de Courcey is the surname of the actor who played Howard in the wonderful series Archer's Goon, which I had seen on television.
Gerhardt Watchman’s name comes from a pun. He styles himself as Camena's bodyguard (a watch-man). Gerhardt is a German name which means - spear-brave. Gerhardt is certainly a fighter - in the end, and he has to be brave to make the final choice for himself and Tell. Many years ago I met a woman who named her baby son Gerhardt. I liked the name and saved it up in my files for ten years before I had cause to use it!
The season - I wrote the book in March and April and set it in the same period. That made it easier to check on background details.
The place - I set the novel in Tasmania, but chose a fictitious town which I called Cockatoo after a certain feathered friend of mine. Keeping to the bird theme, I named Kestrel Bay and Penguin Point. and the street names Corella and Galah and Sulphur.
Trinity Street. the site of Camena’s fatal accident, is the odd name out, and it reflects both my three major characters and the three faces of Gerhardt's "truth".
Camena's sister Lindall is named after a girl I knew twenty-five years ago, Jens who finally tells Gerhardt the harsh truth, is named after an acquaintance of my son's. Moss, Gerhardt's amoral foster father, is named for the low-growing, long-lived plant. Sib Moss, his rival, is also his twin sibling and her name reflects this.
Other bits of fact that wove their ways into my fiction;
Gerhardt plays patience - or a futuristic form of the game. I played a lot of patience while I was struggling with the plot!
Tell and Camena are in Year Ten at a Catholic college. My son was in Year Nine at the time so I was able to pick his brains for lessons and subject names. Gerhardt Watchman looks just like my son, but their characters aren’t alike.
Subjects I had to research included sail training vessels, PFDs, CPR, adoption laws, Mensa requirements, and chess. Which leads to the problem of writing about people who have qualities and talents that I lack!
Camena plays chess, but I don't know the rules, Tell is an excellent swimmer, but I'm only just adequate. Gerhardt and Tell are telepathic, I'm not. Camena is a genius and an adopted child, but I'm neither. On the other hand, Camena's feelings of detachment from normal social life and Gerhard's habit of clinging painfully to what he believes in the face of all the facts are perilously close to faults I wish I didn't have.
Trinity Street deals with some pretty harsh issues. Abortion, the right to life and death, responsibility to society, the problem of flawed and amoral characters - and (to me) the most difficult concept of all;
...that two opposing parties can each be equally convinced that their ways are the only way, and being convinced that their way is morally correct, they believe they have the right and the duty to impose that way on other people.
This then, was the writing of Trinity Street, which was accepted a year and a day after I submitted it for publication, and was published just over a year after that.
Okay, this is me again... the me of 2017, a good twenty years after this article was written. The book cover on the left is the German edition.
About the Blog
Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. She runs http://www.affordablemanuscriptassessments.com and Prints Charming Books. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)
The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. If you enjoyed a post, or want to ask about any of my books or my manuscript assessment service, post a comment and I'll get back to you.