The latest author to take over my blog is Linda MacDonald, who tackles questions on the psychological themes that appear in her novels.
All your novels have themes related to psychology running through them. Could you tell us a little bit about them?
My early education was spent at a boys’ prep school. At the age of nine, I was the only girl in the class for a year and I was bullied. I believe it affected me into later life and I always wanted to bring this into a novel. Meeting Lydia is the result. Research now shows that bullying often causes a lack of self-esteem which in turn may influence social relationships and career prospects. In the novel, Marianne has hit midlife and menopause, and her insecurities from the past return to haunt her when she discovers her husband has befriended a younger and glamorous colleague. The novel is also about jealousy and obsession and the pros and cons of internet relationships – another topical issue that if not handled carefully can lead to much heartache.
A Meeting of a Different Kind contains a main character with borderline bipolar disorder. Also known as manic-depression, this is when a person’s mood cycles between two extremes. In borderline cases, the manic and depressive episodes may not be serious enough to require treatment, but the manic phase in particular may cause a person to behave unwisely which in turn may affect other people. In this novel, femme-fatale Taryn sets about the seduction of the unseducable and faithful Edward. It is a story of betrayal where issues of loyalty and friendship are severely tested.
In 2010, I received dozens of threatening nuisance calls from the partner of a supermarket delivery driver who thought I was having an affair with him. How this came about and how it was resolved has been told elsewhere, but the incident gave me the idea to include a stalker in The Alone Alternative. She starts out as a seemingly innocent neighbour, but becomes obsessed with one of the characters. This sub-plot runs alongside the main storyline where two key main characters have lost their partners for different reasons and have to decide whether to take a chance of a new relationship with each other. New midlife relationships are a feature of the modern world and the positives and negatives of starting again, including the effects on children, form the core of this novel.
Emotional betrayal can be more damaging to a relationship than a physical one – particularly to women. And social media, email and texting make it much more likely to occur. I wanted to highlight this issue in The Man in the Needlecord Jacket in the hope of encouraging people to discuss the boundaries of relationships. The book contains a character with a narcissistic personality and also looks at psychological abuse. With a narcissist, everything is always about them and they have little empathy for others. Coll is full of flirtatious charm and it is not immediately evident that he has issues. Narcissism is a continuum and in the western world a degree of narcissism – confidence, even arrogance – may help a person to be successful, particularly in business. However, in relationships, it may cause problems for the partner.
Why did you choose to have low-grade versions of these issues rather than more dramatic, full-blown versions?
It’s easy to imagine the disruptive effects of a full-blown problem or disorder, but I wanted to show how even low-level manifestations – which more people can relate to – have the capacity to disrupt and damage.
What interests you about these issues? How may they affect relationships?
My background is in psychology and I’m fascinated by human behaviour. Relationships are a minefield at the best of times. Add a psychological problem or a midlife challenge and you have the basis of a plot. In the case of narcissism or borderline bipolar disorder, it may not be obvious when people meet. Indeed such individuals may appear exciting and interesting. People often find themselves attached before discovering the extent of the problem. I would like to think that my novels may help people in the same position to work out a strategy to cope.
How do you incorporate them into your work? What are the challenges?
My novels are character-driven and each one contains at least one key character with an issue. I place the character among others and wait for the drama to begin. The challenges are ensuring accurate representation of the known facts. Also, plausibility of the plot. I’ve had people say that they were waiting for the dramatic bullying event to justify Marianne’s later-life insecurity in Meeting Lydia. But it happened to me so I know it’s valid. If people make fun of you often enough, you begin to believe it. One reviewer said she didn’t believe such bullying could be kept from a partner for twenty years. But I know this to be possible. Many unpleasant childhood occurrences are suppressed from the people closest to us.
Linda MacDonald is the author of four novels: Meeting Lydia and the stand-alone sequels, A Meeting of a Different Kind, The Alone Alternative and The Man in the Needlecord Jacket. All Linda’s books are contemporary adult fiction, multi-themed, but with a focus on relationship issues. After studying psychology at Goldsmiths’, Linda trained as a secondary science and biology teacher. She taught these subjects for several years before moving to a sixth-form college to teach psychology. The first two novels took ten years in writing and publishing, using snatched moments in the evenings, weekends and holidays.
Taking off for a break
This will probably be my last post for a few weeks, unless I can summon the energy to polish up a reflective piece on my blogging fears from a few years ago that I sensibly forgot to publish. But most likely you’ll next hear from me in late August. I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks to our house in SW France, doing little except write, read books (or listen on my iPhone) and lie out in hot sunshine (cross fingers). Also hoping that the mice don’t return until I’ve left, and the coffee machine works.