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1891 — The Novelist

by Susan Marie Brown, © 2014

Whitby, England

Mary’s first novel was the 200 page illustrated tale of love between a rabbit and a hedgehog who dwelt in burrows on opposite sides of a garden and, in the shocking end, were eaten by wildcats. In the 300 page sequel their orphaned offspring, a hedge of young rabhogbits, hopped on a train to go touristing in London, where they were tragically devoured by tigers at the zoo.

Unable to find a publisher for either of these works, fifteen year old Mary bundled her manuscripts in brown wrapping paper, tied them securely with string, and hid them under her bed. In retrospect, the plots were much too childish. The characters were too shallow, too primitive, too difficult to imagine, especially the rabhogbits. Why did she give them red ears and bushy tails? She could not remember. What a bad idea.

It was time to write something more complex, adult, and sensitive.

She began the epic romance of Bernard, a tall strong dark young fisherman, and a delicate princess, Loretta, who was secretly being raised by a dairy farmer’s family to keep her safe from traitorous villains. The princess spent her days milking cows, polishing her diamond-encrusted crown, flirting with Bernard, and embroidering pink roses onto handkerchiefs — until the day a terrible hurricane swept her and him out to sea, where they were mistaken for seals by a pod of whales and swallowed whole.

No publisher admired that manuscript, either.

Mary was undaunted. As long as she could remember she had been encumbered by a malady, consumption, that made the kinds of love and adventure she dreamt of impossible to experience. She lived in weakness and misery but imagined strength and happiness.

It was time to start a new novel. She was almost seventeen. She shoved the latest manuscript under her bed to moulder with the olders and sat facing the open window. Sunlight shone on her table.

The sky glowed blue. Green oaks shook in the wind. A dozen rooks flew by. Mary decided her next princess should run away to hide in an ancient forest, where she would meet the lion who would help save her kingdom from a winged witch’s ravenous dragons. This would be her best story yet!

Mary smiled, pulled a new sheet of paper from the box, dipped her pen in the ink, and began to write.