Saturday, 1 October 2011

Creating The Cushion Effect

  The catalyst that initiated the journey of writing The Cushion Effect was a secret shared. It all started when a close friend confided in me, outlining the story of a letter hidden in a cushion by another of her friends, a device of which even Master William Shakespeare would have been proud.
  Once I started thinking about the literal application of the device in a story I also mused on the metaphorical inferences. Both the Collins and the OED gave me more than enough interpretations. 
  I was fascinated by the ambiguity if not the near contradiction in meanings. As a noun: a bag made of cloth, leather, plastic, etc., stuffed with a mass of soft material, used as a comfortable support for sitting on or leaning against; something resembling a cushion in function or appearance, especially to support or pad, to absorb shock or to protect against impact. Fine and good, but the examination of the verb provides a wider, more metaphorical range of meaning: to provide with cushions; to protect, especially against hardship or change; to check the motion of (a mechanism) gently, especially by the compression of trapped fluid in a cylinder; to provide with a means of absorbing shock.
  It is, however, in the Thesaurus that there are more variables, if not direct contradiction, as one might expect. For the noun it lists beanbag, hassock, headrest, pad, pillow, scatter cushion, squab. And, more significantly for my interests, for the verb bolster, cradle, dampen, deaden, muffle, pillow, protect, soften, stifle, support, suppress. Of the eleven verbs only five offer an unequivocally positive sentiment and four are distinctly negative.
  Meanwhile three characters had found me, who would embody this ambiguity in different ways. The principal point of view in the story is through the eyes of an outsider, through whom much of the action is experienced and observed. She drew on my own dual nationality (British/Canadian) to provide an at times dispassionate view of the English society she inhabits. This alienation adds a piquancy to her struggle to liberate herself from the financially secure, conservative, risk-free, but emotionally suffocating environment she finds herself married into.
  Her friends provide a contrast in styles of enjoying professional success, the material benefits and the corresponding comfortable co-existences. Where one is a consummate (how does she do it?) steady performer as GP, wife and mother, the other is a younger up and coming interior designer without children, with a driven sense of mission and the vivacity and daring to reach out for more than mere workaday accomplishments. Nevertheless, both of them, in different ways, find they are suppressed by the lives they lead, at work and at home.
  When the alpha husband of the GP comes home with the trappings of a mid-life crisis, the three women began to develop their individual responses to the challenge and I set out to record their struggles over time. This set in motion the basic underlying structure for the novel.

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