My Accomplice – Daphne du Maurier by Anna Mazzola

My Accomplice

Ahead of the release of her second novel, The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola tells us about one of her biggest fiction writing inspirations - Daphne du Maurier.

Posted on July 9, 2018 in Guest Author, My Accomplice

I’m choosing Daphne Du Maurier as my writing accomplice. Not that she would have agreed to it. As a rule, she didn’t much like other humans. She famously once said: ‘I can’t say I really like people. Perhaps that’s why I always preferred to create my own.’

Nevertheless, she’s been writing alongside me for many years, chain-smoking, chewing mints and tapping away at her typewriter. We were particularly close over the two years in which I wrote The Story Keeper, which is set on the Isle of Skye and features malevolent bird-like creatures. I went back to her books because I wanted to capture that sense of pervasive menace, and that idea of the landscape as an additional character that she achieved so successfully in Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. I re-read many of her novels, and terrified myself with her short stories, including, of course, The Birds.

What’s funny is that in own time she was written off by many critics as a ‘romance’ writer, and yet there is very little that is romantic about her novels, short stories or plays. She was more interested, as I am, in obsession and power in relationships; in suppressed violence and betrayal; in people tearing each other apart. Her novels are more psychological thriller or gothic fiction; sometimes even horror. They vary hugely, but none have happy endings.

I’ve learnt a huge amount from Du Maurier. I know many of us have. She’s such a magnificent storyteller. She does all of the things a creative writing tutor will tell you to do: create characters we care about, put them in a distinct setting, and send them on a journey that will change both them and us. She also writes in a way that is both literary and accessible, and which hasn’t really dated. But she does more than that. She explores what it means to be human, and the extremes to which people will go times of crises. ‘There is no end to the evil in ourselves,’ she once wrote, ‘just as there is no end to the good. It’s a matter of choice. We struggle to climb, or we struggle to fall. The thing is to discover which way we’re going.’

She was very versatile, and very brave. She wrote what she wanted to write about: wreckers, adventure stories, time-travel, sex dolls. I imagine that if we were together in her writing shed, she’d light up another cigarette and tell me to quit worrying about the market for my next book. Just write the damn thing.

The Story Keeper is out now.

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