Elly McDonald


When you’re in a hole, stop digging (2 June 2014)

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Eighteen months ago I left a brave child in a mud-hole. Her name is Lenny and she is the main character in an untitled, unplanned novella I’ve left stranded on 25,000 words.

Lenny is a child soldier. She is a victim of genocide and extreme abuse. She is also an alter ego, despite the obvious differences that I have not experienced genocide or war or significant violence, and I am 40 years older than she is. Oh, and I am flesh and blood, while Lenny is fiction.

I feel survivor guilt in relation to Lenny. She struggled so hard to come into being, and she’s fought like a fiend to make it this far. Worse, in the framework of the narrative, Lenny is the one who cannot die: the one of who refuses to die, who insists her story be told.

For her story to be told, first she needs to break down her creator’s obduracy. Believe me, I am resistant to looking up the dictionary definition of “obdurate”, let alone loosening its grip on my writing behaviours.

Yet I do want Lenny to live. On a fundamental level, enabling Lenny’s story to be told gives me permission to tell my other stories. It is vital to me that I offer Lenny a hand-up, out of her mud-hole, and help her on her way.

I know she faces many challenges once she gets out of that hole. I know, because I created her universe – and believe me, a friendly cosmos it is not. Lenny’s world is a domain of warriors and heroes, demons and magic, and savagery. I did that to her. I put her there. The savagery and killing is of my making. So in a ‘real’ sense, in a fictional domain, Lenny’s greatest adversary is me.

This is a relationship between the writer and the written.

Shakespeare understood this (not that I compare myself to Shakespeare). At times he put his characters in situations of extreme duress. He sent them mad. He tortured them. He killed them in callous and brutal ways.

I left Lenny in a hole. The Bard exposed a good man to the cruel elements on a windswept heath. In King Lear Act 4 Scene 1 he had his character lament:

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
They kill us for their sport.

But Lenny is the one who refuses to die. And I am the deus ex machina who can lift her out of that hole.

As soon as I overcome my obduracy.

The Lenny novella (c.26,737 words) – 2012 and 2018


Author: Elly McDonald

Australian-born, with English mother, has lived in several Australian cities and in London. Travelled widely. Way way back when, published widely as a poet and short story writer.

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