I am about to write a scene for my current book in which six people are gathered around a dinner table in extraordinary circumstances. The reader will by now be very familiar with each one of the six, and of course others are missing from the table. The story is building to a climax and these characters have recently undergone experiences which have tested them to their limits. In such circumstances the ‘calm before the storm’ will prompt a diversity of reactions.
How hard is it to enjoy yourself in heartbreaking, difficult or frightening situations? As someone recently bereaved and in a year of losing many members of our close and extended family, and friends too, I find myself comparing my situation to living through a war. My parents’ generation did just this, and my grandmother had three sons caught up in the war overseas. I cannot imagine everyday life for those left at home to worry – or to mourn – and to try living out that worn-out motto: ‘keep calm and carry on’.
Human beings have a wonderful capacity for coping with grief and worry, but I believe they are helped by finding others in similar situations. Moving back to my ‘dinner table’, the six have been drawn into a web of sinister events without choice. This dining experience will be unexpected and tranquil with candlelight and spectacular food. But can two people who disliked each other on sight become reconciled? Will two troubled and fearful souls be fortified enough to draw strength for the forthcoming hiatus? Might one couple passionately in love find a solution to their enforced separation? I’m beginning to sound like the back cover of a trashy novel!
As I begin to plan our annual Christmas lunch, the elephant in the room is the missing person from the gathering this year. Then I begin to consider how much the table has shrunk over the years as other late lamented guests have departed too soon, and a list begins to form.
Enough gloom. I leave you with a question: in Fantasyland, you may host a dinner table for six. Around the table will be you and five others who you would rather dine with than anyone else. They may be living or dead, real or imaginary (fiction). They must be people who will make you laugh, who will stimulate you or simply add quiet support. Who would they be? I know who mine are… but then again, maybe I need to host more than one of these fantasy meals. Enjoy!