According to Chinese Astrology, the Year of the Horse (one of 12 signs of the Zodiac) begins today and will end on 18th February 2015. I have to say I’m rather excited about this for a number of reasons:
a) born in 1954 my birthday falls under the sign of the horse;
b) one of the occupations in my portfolio working life is as a horse whisperer – working with people and their horses to improve communication and performance (see www.clocktowerstud.co.uk for more details);
c) I spend a lot of my life with my own horses and ponies; riding, training, and generally ‘hanging out’. Horses have been a passion since I could first walk and talk;
d) hopefully we will see plenty of literary references in the media to the horse this year;
e) Chinese astrologers are recommending that people born under the sign of the horse who will be 60 during the year should have a big party ‘to balance the luck’. Well, I’m all for that, given that I was too ill on my 50th to get out of bed, let alone go party!
What characteristics are people born in The Year of the Horse supposed to possess? Let’s consider the positive ones first: they will be ‘sanguine, sharp-minded, dress fashionably, gifted with a silver tongue and have acute insight . . .engaged in intellectual activities and sports’. All true of course! And the negative ones? Well, never mind about those . . .
Mirren and I like astrology and believe it has some merit both in our lives and for our writing.
We find it useful, for example, in working up characterisations.
At one point during the initial stages of planning ‘Eight of Cups’, we had six flipcharts pinned around my living room, one for each of the ‘Dalmeny Street Girls’, assigning them Zodiac signs, and using several astrology books to pick out character traits. Alix is a Gemini – a social butterfly, sexy, fun and mischievous; Carys is a Scorpio – intense, intellectual, driven, and so on. We found as we took these characters through their storylines that the astrological ‘handle’ helped ensure character consistency and also provided us with many amusing highlights, such as Alix’s ‘Book of Bastards’ and observations of characteristics working in the negative, such as Lesley’s habit of over-caring for others at the expense of herself.
Diane, one of the ‘narrators’ in the novel, and Nancy, the other main character, actually visit an astrologer for a consultation , largely based on a true-life experience of Mirren Jones. As good writers we endeavour to undertake very thorough research! Here’s a brief extract from the chapter entitled ‘Taking a chance on Life’:
Melanie the Astrologer was slim, friendly and vivacious, with mid-length brown, wavy hair. She was wearing a pretty dress and stiletto heels – not quite what they were expecting. She ushered the two friends into her living room – fairly ordinary except for the pink stars on the ceiling and the New Age ornaments dotted around. They made polite chit-chat about the journey and finding the house, then she asked who would like to have their reading first. As they’d already decided it would be Nancy, she followed Melanie up the stairs to a small bedroom used as the consultation room. The bookcase along one wall was a prominent feature, with shelves heavily laden with heaps of astrology books and almanacs bearing titles such as a History of Western Astrology and Raphael’s Astrological and Predictive Almanac. Some looked very well-worn, others had post-its stuck in various pages.
Pictures of stars and planets adorned the walls, and in the middle of the room was a little round table, covered by a floor-length white cloth, with a large white candle offset to one side. Melanie showed Nancy her chair then sat down herself, arranging her dress demurely, and wrapping the shawl that was draped on the back of the chair around herself. With a deft strike of a match, she lit the candle, then leaned over to pick up a pile of papers from the floor, before checking that the tape machine was recording properly.
You’ll need to read the book to find out what “The year to come for Nancy Robertson, October 2001 to October 2002” had in store!
Returning to the Chinese system, I wondered what characteristics Mirren is supposed to have and hence whether as writing partners we are thought to be compatible, so I looked it up. Mirren was born in The Year of the Rabbit. She’s meant to be kind and considerate, like peace, love the arts, be clever, have the ability to evaluate well and be capable of making clear-headed appraisals of the situation. I’d agree with all of that. We’ll leave out the Rabbit negatives!
Would we be expected to get on? This is what Lau (1) says about Horse / Rabbit compatibility:
“Animosity and strong conflicts. Cannot relate to each other. Have nothing much in common. Uncooperative.”
Thankfully, in our case, as writing partners that is completely untrue! Indeed the exact opposite applies. We could not write together if we could not relate inter-personally, and also to each other’s’ literary ideas and ideals. A writing partnership cannot be about conflict, otherwise it wouldn’t last long! For a better angle on how we get along writing together, read the article on ‘Collaborative Writing’ on our website: http://www.mirrenjones.co.uk/#/article-collaborative-writing/4571785706
Meanwhile, I’d better start thinking about that 60th Birthday Party of mine – November 22nd is not that far away!
(1) Lau, T and Lau,L. (2011) The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes. London:Souvenir Press