It’s my pleasure to welcome Leela Dutt with a guest post, part of the blog tour for ‘A Distant Voice in the Darkness’ organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
FIRST PERSON OR THIRD – WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES POINT-OF-VIEW MAKE?
I am LEELA DUTT, and I write novels and short stories. This autumn 186 Publishing Limited brought out my novel A DISTANT VOICE IN THE DARKNESS.
When I came to write A DISTANT VOICE IN THE DARKNESS I decided that two of the main characters could tell the story as it happened to them, how it really felt, in selected chapters – although for the book’s narrative flow to work best, several chapters still had to remain in the third person, because of the mixed scenes in them. The opening chapter is narrated by Eleanor in the present tense, telling us how she meets Alec, another first year university student. I got much deeper into Eleanor here, partly because she was describing her experiences in the present tense, and I found her making off-the-cuff asides – sarcasm is a bad habit of mine, people say, she tells us. You can make gravy with the giblets, she explains to Alec about a chicken he has spectacularly set fire to; then thinks to herself, what is this, a cookery programme?
After they break up, Eleanor narrates chapters set in Rome and the south of France, so we find out what has happened to Alec, and how she feels about it. She’s again in the present tense here, which gives an immediate impact and puts her in command of the moment. Eleanor runs into Alec again in Copenhagen. Her book launch at the Royal Danish Embassy in London goes drastically wrong when she spills sildesalat down her posh dress – and this is where Alec narrates the next chapter: she was drunk, of course, he begins, and we start to see it all from his point of view.
There’s a long significant chapter in Kolkata and Darjeeling which worked better when narrated by Eleanor. Alec takes over to introduce a glamourous Italian archaeologist who seduces him, and we see this from Eleanor’s point of view when she narrates the chapter on visiting this woman’s dig in central Italy.
Some chapters had to be narrated in the third person because I wanted to contrast different events happening at the same time, in different places across the world – for example, when Alec’s mother goes to Australia to visit her other son, we first see Alec’s father at the Hay Festival in mid-Wales, when he and Eleanor attend a talk by Alec, then his mother and brother drive along the Great Ocean Road for a day out from Melbourne, and finally Eleanor answers the phone to Alec’s mother in the morning after she has stayed the night with Alec’s father in mid-Wales.
I decided to keep the exciting and dramatic events at the end in the third person, when Eleanor gets caught up in an armed invasion of Lesotho and is shot at a roadblock trying to escape.
It is unusual to mix first and third person points of view as I have done, but hopefully doing so has enabled me to bring to life the characters and events in a way which otherwise might not have been possible.
Thanks so much for this, Leela.
“A distant voice in the darkness… So on the ocean of life we pass” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A chance meeting at university leads to a relationship that spans marriages, the world and the decades in this sweeping and fulfilling novel from acclaimed author Leela Dutt, a story that reaches from the British countryside, through the glamour of Rome and the exhilaration of India to the turbulence of the South African invasion of Lesotho. Through it all, Eleanor Larsen-Bruun pursues a successful career and yet never loses her love for the man she met so many years before. At the peak of her success, fate seems to offer the chance to begin again something that was started so many years before…
Leela Dutt is an outsider, an only child brought up in Golders Green by an Indian father and a Danish mother. She has travelled all her life since the day her mother had to tuck the toddler under her arm while she struggled up a steep metal ladder on the side of a warship in order to be taken to Denmark. Leela lives in Cardiff. After history at Oxford she was briefly a teacher, a shop assistant and a journalist. She then took a degree in computing, and set up and ran a database about housing research for Cardiff University, before joining the Big Issue Cymru as a proof-reader and reviewer.