Sunday, 17 June 2012

Amalie's Back Story - Before Page 1 Delighting In Your Company

As writers we have to know far more about our characters than ever appears in the book. There has to be a “backstory” in our minds as we write about them if they are to breathe life. No character springs to life full blown on page one. What happened before the story began? What experiences in his/her past have caused this character to act in this particular way in this particular situation?

Amalie in Delighting In Your Company is a character who intrigued me. I started out thinking she would be a proper young eighteenth century lady, very different from her twenty-first century descendant, also named Amalie, who travels back in time to meet her.

But try as I might, my eighteenth century Amalie would simply not behave herself. I suppose it had something to do with growing up in a motherless home. Her Mother was off In London where her brother was in school. Her father loved her, but he was too busy running a large plantation on the Caribbean Island of St. Clements to notice how his daughter was growing up.

It must be admitted here that Amalie used no small amount of guile to keep her father in ignorance. She appeared at dinner every evening properly dressed and coiffed. Smiling her dimpled smile at him, she always had a ready and thoroughly proper answer to his “How was your day?”

 “I started a new book.” Or “I finished another row in my embroidery.” These were not lies; they were simply a very small part of the truth.

And so Amalie grew up unfettered by the conventions and restrictions of her age. She wandered about the plantation freely. She particularly liked the stables. Not for her were the delicate side-saddled trotting horses. Donning her absent brother’s clothing she rode astride and raced like the wind along the beach on her large mare, Molly.

She regularly swam in the sea, in the nude, leaving the loose pants and shirt she habitually wore for her explorations hanging on a bush.

She knew more about mating and the reproductive process than any young girl of her age in the eighteen hundreds ever did.  She had grown up observing the mating of the many animals on the plantation, and even of her mare, Molly. And knew the consequence of mating, having assisted at the birth of Molly’s foal.

As it happened, she was wearing a dress, albeit without petticoats, the day she first saw Jonathan.  Her skirts were hiked up above her knees as she raced Molly along the sandy beach in the edge of the sea.

She hadn’t expected to see anyone there. There was never anyone there. But this morning there was.

She pulled her mare to an abrupt halt and looked down at the man who was striding along the beach toward her.

He stopped and stared up at her. Their eyes locked.

His eyes passed over her, taking in her unruly wind-blown curls and rosy cheeks, her gently rounded breasts, her bottom firmly planted in the saddle, her exposed legs and bare feet.

And then he laughed, a deep booming laugh. “Good morning, Mistress Ansett.”
Amalie blushed, furious at being caught-out.

“Never fear. Your secret is safe with me.” He laughed again and taking off his planter’s hat, he bowed low to her.

Amalie turned Molly abruptly and raced back in the direction from which she’d come. At the plantation house she turned Molly over to the grooms and rushed inside and up to her room.

Jemma, the slave who had looked after Amalie since she was an infant, was there cleaning her room and making her bed. Amalie threw her arms around the elderly black woman and danced her in a circle.

“What’s come over you, chile? And where you been here before breakfast? You looks disgraceful. Your hair not even combed. Best not let your Pappy see you like dis.”
“Oh, Jemma! I’ve met him! I’ve met the man I’m going to marry!”

When this scene, not in the book, happens, Amalie is just fourteen. Jonathan decides she is the one he wants for his wife, based on this one encounter:

He smiled, remembering. “You were still a child.”
“I was fourteen. Some women are married at fourteen.”
“You were delicious. I’ll never forget my first sight of you. You were racing your mare along the beach. Your skirts were flying and your legs were exposed to above your knees. And your hair was all loose and uncombed and windblown. And my heart stopped. I believe I have loved you from that moment. I told myself it was absurd. There was a six year difference in our ages. You were still a child. But it did no good. I wanted you.”
“You never said anything. We met at dinners and at parties, and on the beach, and you never said anything.”
“I was waiting for you to grow up. It was my firm plan to ask your father for your hand on the day you were eighteen.”
“I moved that along, didn’t I? Two years later, the day after my sixteenth birthday.” Amalie gave a low seductive laugh. “I waited quite deliberately for you that day down on the beach.”
“How could I forget? You were standing there, so close I could smell the scent of your hair, feel the warmth of your skin. It was driving me to distraction. Not touching you was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Then you said, ‘race you’ and started pulling off your clothes. I just stood there, in shock, immobile.”
“Not for long. I seem to recall you divested yourself of clothing pretty rapidly.”
“We enjoyed our first kiss, out there in the sea. And I fully meant it to stop there.”
Amalie laughed. “I didn’t. I came to the beach that day determined to seduce you, to break though that steely reserve once and for all. I wanted you, Jonathan. I wanted you when I first saw you. I still want you.”

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The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company
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Blair McDowell