Friday, April 22, 2011

A Sadist and a Saint?

My WIP Veiled in Storms keeps rolling on.
I am writing what I have found the most difficult sections of the story at the moment.

In a plot development truly the brainchild of my Inner Sadist one of my main characters is arrested and sent to Siberia. To be more precise she is sentenced to 25 years in Stalin’s GULAG system. Some of you may know something of the GULAGs as reams have been written about them, most famously Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s books The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, essentially they were a forced labour camps of the Soviet Union.

The majority of people sent to the GULAGs were there on trumped up charges. Some were never charged but were sentenced because of the “actions” of friends or relatives. Depending on when a person was arrested and where a person was sent in the system things varied from very hard to being worked and starved to death.

The problem for me as an author (even one who consults an inner sadist) is experiences in the system were quite simply terrible. Entry into the system typically involved interrogation by the NKVD. The NKVD routinely used torture, both psychological and physical. As if that wasn’t bad enough, women (my character is female) were frequently raped as part of the process of breaking them.

Once in the camps there is also plenty of options for my Inner Sadist to throw at my poor character. Work details, starvation, violence of all kinds from prisoners and guards. According to Solzhenitsyn the worst curse possible was to be not only a woman but an attractive woman in the camps. My poor character ticks both boxes.

So somehow I have to explore surviving the impossible with my character. I have had experience with writing difficult material, a component of my first book Veiled in Shadows is the Holocaust. I don’t pull too many punches in that book, but I think I managed to find a balance between telling a harrowing story and keeping it light enough to read. As a by the by I think my reviewers agree with me.

You can find reviews here:
(Kathleen Jones' Review - Reviews on Amazon - Reviews on Book Depository).

So the trick is to tell a story that is realistic (even dismally so) but to find a way to balance the hard with the not quite so bad.

I guess that is where my Inner Saint comes into play. To avoid giving too much of my plot away I’ll quote from Anne Applebaum’s book Gulag: A History. “Certainly many women survivors are convinced there were great advantages to being female within the camp system. Women were better at taking care of themselves…better able to subsist on low amounts of food... They formed powerful friendships and helped each other in ways that male prisoners did not.”

So my Inner Sadist might throw the intolerable at my poor character. At the same time my Inner Saint will throw some lifelines. How many she catches along the way… well you will have to wait and see.

Oh by the way - my Inner Saint wants me to tell any concerned readers of Valentina’s extracts that the character who goes to GULAG is not her. Do you believe me?


Old Kitty said...

It's going to be poor Penelope isn't it?!?!?!

Happy Easter! Take care

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, this sounds fascinating! I love the sound of a story of women helping each other in that situation. I've read about half of Galag Archipelago, so I know a little about the situation. I think what you've read though, sounds right--that women would help each other out... one loses rations for a while, another shares... nursing each other after violence... totally sounds right.

Good luck with the writing!

LTM said...

wow. That sounds amazing and very intriguing. I remember when my MC in my last MS had a terrible experience, I walked around in a funky mood for two days. :o\ It's hard. But it sounds like you've got a good handle on the balance with the little lifelines of support.

Best of luck w/your challenge~

Susan Fields said...

I agree that if you're going to throw the intolerable at your character, she's going to need some lifelines. That sounds like an excellent way to make it real and balance out the horror of it.

Al said...

Hi Jennifer,
The sadist in me wants me to say YES!

Hi Hart,
Exactly, I hope I can pull it off!

Hi Leigh,
I tend to cry when bad things happen to my characters. Am I a wuss or what?

Hi Susan,
It has to be done that way. If it is all bad people will just put the book down.