9/20/12 - how to become a successful fantasy writer

In today's encore excerpt - in the late 1800s, when J.M. Barrie was seven years old, long before he became famous and wealthy as the author of Peter Pan and one London's most successful playwrights, his thirteen year old brother David died unexpectedly. David was the favorite of his mother Margaret, and after he died she remained bedridden, barely acknowledging J.M. (then known as Jamie). The only way he could get her love and attention was to pretend he was David, listen to her stories of make-believe, and tell her his own. Here are those memories in his own words:

" 'My mother lay in bed with [David's] christening robe beside her, and I peeped in many times at the door and then went to the stair and sat on it and sobbed. I know not if it was that first day, or many days afterwards, that there came to me my sister, the daughter my mother loved the best [Jane Ann]; ... This sister, who was then passing out of her teens, came to me with a very anxious face and wringing her hands, and she told me to go in to my mother and say to her that she still had another boy. I went in excitedly, but the room was dark, and when I heard the door shut and no sound come from the bed I was afraid, and I stood still. I suppose I was breathing hard, or perhaps I was crying, for after a time I heard a listless voice that had never been listless before say, 'Is that you?' I think the tone hurt me, for I made no answer, and then the voice said more anxiously, 'Is that you?' again. I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to, and I said in a little lonely voice, 'No, it's not him, it's just me . . .'

" 'Many a time she fell asleep speaking to him, and even while she slept her lips moved and she smiled as if he had come back to her, and when she woke he might vanish so suddenly that she started up bewildered and looked about her, and then said slowly, 'My, David's dead!'

"Nothing Jamie could do would make her forget David. But how he tried.

" 'After that I sat a great deal in her bed trying to make her forget him ... and if I saw any one out of doors do something that made others laugh I immediately hastened to that dark room and did it before her. I suppose I was an odd little figure; I have been told that my anxiety to brighten her gave my face a strained look and put a tremor into the joke. I would stand on my head in the bed, my feet against the wall, and then cry excitedly, 'Are you laughing, mother?' . . . I remember once only making her laugh before witnesses. I kept a record of her laughs on a piece of paper, a stroke for each, and it was my custom to show this proudly to the doctor every morning ... It was doubtless [Jane Ann] who told me not to sulk when my mother lay thinking of him, but to try instead to get her to talk about him ... At first, they say, I was often jealous, stopping her fond memories with the cry, 'Do you mind nothing about me?' but that did not last ... He had such a cheery way of whistling, she had told me, it had always brightened her at her work to hear him whistling, and when he whistled he stood with his legs apart, and his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers ... I had learned his whistle ... from boys who had been his comrades, I secretly put on a suit of his clothes . . . and thus disguised I slipped, unknown to the others into my mother's room ...

"After this crushing simulation, in which he surrendered to David an exclusive claim on his mother's love, and swallowed her rejection of him, 7-year-old Jamie switched the focus from himself and David, and persuaded his mother to tell him about her own childhood.

"He then began to feature the child his mother had once been in sentimental made-up stories, and 'this girl in a blue dress and bonnet with white ribbons' was reborn in tales 'of desert islands and enchanted gardens, with knights on leaping chargers'.

"Margaret, 'a wonder at making-believe'—and astonishingly self-centred—rose to the fantasy which became the basis of their relationship. Throughout his boyhood she would tell Jamie about [her childhood]. And the stories continued in turn to pour out from Jamie, eventually to become, in his thirties, [his] whole [highly successful] novels. Always there was a character in them [based] on Margaret. 'I soon grow tired of writing tales unless I can see a little girl, of whom my mother has told me, wandering confidently through the pages.'

"He would bring the manuscript of a new novel from London, and sit on her bed (for Margaret was often in bed, with Jane Ann in attendance), while she looked for herself in its pages. When she found the character, she would cackle excitedly, and all would be well."


Piers Dudgeon


Neverland: J.M Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan


Pegasus Books


Copyright 2009 by Piers Dudgeon


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