Elizabeth Baines on Clarrie and You.



ELizabeth Baines

Uncertainty. I’m obsessed with it. Nearly everything I write now seems to touch on it. We live all the time with uncertainty, but we can’t live with it, we migrate towards the comfort of certainty or its illusion, we take refuge in the rituals of civilisation and scientific theory, we like to think we know. Of course, there’s always a reason for everything, but often when we think we know it, we’ve got it wrong, we’re looking in the wrong direction… A challenge for the writer: that story-telling pull towards explanation, closure and resolution, and the need sometimes to resist that…


In my Unthology 5 story I try to explore this very idea, the tension between uncertainty and the need for explanation and resolution. ‘Clarrie and You’, it’s called, ‘You’ being Olive and Clarrie her sister, so it’s a story about two sisters. But is it about the two sisters, is it really about something else? Is there some greater reason for the lifelong tension between the two sisters besides the simple sibling rivalry established when they were children? Is the tension really coming just from that? For much of the story we’re looking with Olive in the wrong direction…


I’m obsessed with the underside of things, and the way that often the most mundane-seeming people turn out to have the most dramatic emotional lives and amazing experiences. Olive and her sister Clarrie are now elderly, and they have recently had a skirmish. It seems a petty and domestic dispute, but Olive is disproportionately upset about it, and puzzled as to how it happened. There’s more going on beneath the surface than she has acknowledged even to herself, and it’s something way in the past…


One of the things I’m concerned with as a writer is viewpoint, and I wanted to play here with the second person: the story is an address to the protagonist Olive, mapping out the convoluted connections between the current petty dispute and the more acute matter, connections that Olive herself hasn’t seen because of her own repression. So there is an explanation, an explanation involving sexual prejudice and the power of social pressure. But that explanation is a deadly secret that Clarrie mustn’t know, a secret based in another relationship that defocusses theirs, cutting them off from each other. Uncertainty and misunderstanding the status quo…


After all, there are stories and there are stories, and stories underneath those…


So: secrecy and sibling rivalry, social pressure, sexual prejudice, emotional angst, domesticity and its ugly flipside, the way one relationship can cut you from others; complicated and subtle plot connections that need careful teasing out… I’m always up for a challenge and for disobeying the rules, and that was another thing that prompted me: to see if all of this could be accommodated in the short-story form!


Elizabeth Baines‘ Clarrie and You appears in Unthology 5.


Unthology 5

Unthology 5

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