The Cruelty of Obsession
It wouldn't be a bad title for book IV, but it's not a contender. Twitter (all 15 of them) recently voted, and the winner (such as it was, given the relative size of the community against the number of people who actually clicked to vote) was 'The Mask You Hide Behind'. Which is appropriate, although I later realised that I think 'A Mask to Hide Behind' might be better. I like a short, to-the-point title, but I also want it to be something the book is about or, to take another line on the same idea, that when a reader makes her way through the book, they should agree on the appropriateness of the title. This Matter of Faith was - relatively - easy to pick. Strelley says it, but he actually says 'these matters of faith'. In the second one, Kat Astley threaten's Strelley with every last one of Heaven's avenging angels. You'd be surprised at how often I mis-type that as Heaven's Avenging Angles, which would be a different story indeed. Most recently, the title is actually a documented (although with what accuracy it is hard to tell) line from Thomas Seymour. De Winter is the one who utters the line about the mask, and the thought is that what you allow out there, for what might be called public consumption, isn't the same stuff that's going on behind that mask. For some of us, the mask is a barrier, a way of keeping up the appearances of following conventions and not letting the less praiseworthy side of our character out. It can be more, and in de Winter's case it is significant that he won't tell his friends - in fact, he has not told anyone, including his confessor - what his sin is. He hints that it is a sin of imagining rather than of actual commission, which in some ways is the worst kind to torture yourself with, because - for a mind that can be prone to obsessive or intrusive thoughts or rumination - you can end up punishing yourself for the thing you didn't do. When Dumbledore says to Harry that it is our choices rather than our abilities that show who we truly are, it is worth adding that the things we imagine doing but choose not to should actually count in our favour, not against us. What defines a sin - whether you are a secular humanist or a Christian - seems to be, centrally, the negative effect on other people. Imagining doesn't have this negative effect.
In any case, I haven't decided yet. I have been doing a bit of work on these short flash fictions, which have occasionally popped up on here. Some of them are a little bit too close to home to be shared, which is a shame, because they come out quite well. There will come a point in future years when I can, but sometimes I think the need just to get the words out of my head and onto a page makes it redundant whether or not they are any kind of publishable. They have a sort of 'blocking' quality: the short fiction idea sits so much front and centre that no progress happens on the novel until the idea is out. But those ideas have some of that potential for negative effect that renders them private. I don't keep a diary or journal - I once tried to make 'notes' but I realised quickly that my disastrous lack of personal organisation and my general need not to dwell on the happenings of any given day made it impracticable - and I suppose these flashes are in lieu of that.
Writers sometimes get asked whether they write about themselves, and there's a bit of me that thinks this question is redundant, and another bit of that doesn't. Of course my writing is about me - it all comes from inside my head - but at the same time, that doesn't mean everything in the books is something that happened to me. I was not, for example, present at the siege of Norwich in 1549, but at least part of the way the characters react to that situation is how I imagine I might. You can probably tell by reading the existing books and the excerpts from book IV that some of the how-it-feels-to-be-that-person-in-that-situation is more 'alive' to me that some other parts; where the story is about people and feelings rather than sieges and politics, it makes sense that it should be so. So why the cruelty of obsession? It's a phrase that captures a major strand of book IV, and something that I have experienced from several angles. The casual bandying about of the phrase "I'm a bit OCD" highlights the lack of general understanding of what obsession is, and what it can do to a person. Edward Strelley's obsession with Elizabeth is undoubtedly cruel, because he cannot have her - his station and hers, and history, prevent it - just as is her obsession with him. But theirs is a mutual affection, and therein lies the cruelty in that particular case. I wonder if the reason I would not choose it as the title is precisely because of the implication of one-sidedness that really isn't right for my story. I also wonder if it shades into the 'thriller' realm, which is comically far away from what I'm writing. So, The Cruelty of Obsession will not be the title of the fourth book. But I wonder if this should be my dedication: "To all the Edward Strelleys and Elizabeth Tudors of the world: may life bring you peace."
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought