The Vinegar Jar was first published by Hamish Hamilton in 1994. Berlie has now reissued it, transformed into Rose Doran Dreams. Linda Newbery, Celia Rees and I sent Berlie some questions after we'd all read her book....here they are, followed by a short review by me. Find out more from her website.
And I wanted to change the ending. Interestingly, I wrote different endings for the English edition and the American edition of The Vinegar Jar - and I still wasn’t happy!
When I re-read it I felt I liked the book but that it could be a lot better. Revising it became a major project, I loved doing it, and it really absorbed me.
I decided to rename it because Rose Doran had changed, or my understanding of her had changed. In The Vinegar Jar her stories and imaginings trap her and almost stifle her. She’s looking out on the world that she can’t escape into. In Rose Doran Dreams her stories and imaginings give her freedom and emotional release. Her imagination powers her.
Linda: I like the way you let us fully understand how Rose's longings and frustrations lead to her fantasy with Paedric, but also you allow us to see how strange her behaviour seems to Gordon and Edmund. Was this difficult to pull off?
Berlie: This was one of the things I hadn’t achieved in The Vinegar Jar. Things just happen and aren’t explained. As soon as I thought about Rose Doran being in some sort of psychological breakdown I began to understand her and could find ways of justifying her psychic relationship with Paedric. Also I was able to ask myself questions about her relationship with Gordon and Edmund, the effect on them of her alienation, and their helplessness in trying to make sense of it.
Linda: I felt that Rose was often unkind to Edmund, yet he remains devoted to her and apparently endlessly patient, despite the limitations to his own life. What do you see as his future (if you do?)
Berlie: In The Vinegar Jar he mentions a girlfriend, but the reader hears little about her, as if perhaps he’s just making her up for Rose’s benefit. But in Rose Doran Dreams she’s really there, and we meet her. Like Rose, I would want his future to be with Molly.
Adèle: Rose Doran Dreams moves from being an almost D H Lawrence-like realist story, to containing elements of fairytale and fantasy. How do you think each “strand of thought” (if I can call it that!) enhanced the other?
Berlie: I don’t think one would have worked completely without the other. Rose’s imagination is a kind of psychosis, and I hope she shocks the reader as much as she shocks Gordon with her erotic story of the shivering mountain. It’s as if she can’t help it, and she slips from reality into fantasy without being aware of it or of its effect on others. But as for the realism, although she was a child who loves stories (and who doesn’t!) I needed to show her as being rooted in earth, and not just a dreamy child with her head in the clouds.
Adèle: Some of the ‘realist’ story had such a strong feeling of being true that I wondered whether there was any autobiography in the mix. Can you tell us?Berlie: Not to my knowledge!
Adèle: I thought parts of the novel were Angela Carteresque. Is she an influence on your work? Can you name other writers who might have had an effect on this book?
Berlie: I can’t actually, though I’m very honoured that you’ve made that connection. The fact is that I love fairy stories, and yes, magic realism, though I didn’t know that term when I wrote TVJ. I do love Angela Carter/Isabel Allende/ Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie/Joanne Harris …
But also D H Lawrence (that reference interested me, Adele! Barry Hines/Arthur Miller/ Shelagh Delaney … It’s strange isn’t it, you don’t know when you’re writing something how much, or if at all, you’re affected by your reading.
Adèle: Can you see RDD as a film or play? If so, where would you film it?
Berlie: Yes, a film. It is visual. Or a radio play, for the same reason. And if a film, Edale (where I live). It’s not Edale, many of the geographic features don’t apply to Edale but the railway runs through it (and is an important character in the book) and the caverns and hills of Castleton (the Mam Tor story) lie just beyond it.
Anyone who's read reviews by me knows that I don't like giving away the plot of a novel, and in this case the narrative moves through different iterations of love, and obsession. It centres on children, and our eponymous heroine experiences young love, then an unusual marriage and then a relationship which stretches her emotions (and those of the reader) to the limit. You will end up in a glorious tangle of true and imagined and it's part of the pleasure of the story that you'll be going over it in your head long after you've finished reading it, sorting out what you think has happened or is happening. It's a very visual book...I think it would make a terrific movie.