On Writing ‘Crusades’

Marie Gethins

One of my internet wanderings turned up a series of History Channel clips on the Crusades. I had been reading articles on the Syrian refugee crisis around the same period. So I began to ruminate on cultural categorisations, motivations, and intransience. What people often cling to when they try to make sense of the world, especially if living in a different society than where they originated. Why do some people adapt and absorb, while others want to transfer the familiar to their new setting? Perhaps even more curious to me is why a few feel the compulsion to convert others to their point-of-view or ostracise them based on certain assumptions. In these situations, religion can be used as both a cohesive and dividing force.

My story ‘Crusades’ went through possibly the most iterations of any story I’ve written to date. It began in third person, changed to first person (the elder daughter), changed to the mother’s point-of-view, then the father’s point-of-view, back to third person, and finally to the youngest daughter’s point-of-view. Originally I didn’t even have the younger daughter character. It also changed setting – from Dublin to Manchester – and family ethnicity.

Unable to find the right voice, I struggled with it for a couple of months. Then a memory came forward to bail me out. I remembered my grandmother telling me (I was eleven or twelve years old) that my father had led my mother away from God. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant. I attended Catholic schools and we went to mass as a family each Sunday. My father had an intense personal interest in religions of the world, studied sacred texts and theological analysis as a hobby. He talked about practicing Christian values in daily life. He helped neighbours with DIY projects, stopped to assist stranded motorists change a tyre. Years later, I realised that he was an Atheist. Yet he respected my mother’s à la carte Catholicism, never scoffing at her ritual of praying for me during exams or when she told me to pray to St Anthony if I lost something.

While ‘Crusades’ is fictional, these personal memories triggered the eleven/twelve-year-old girl narrator voice and perspective. Story elements shifted as a result. The elder daughter’s unexpected pregnancy became a subtler plot point. I used a reportage style for historical elements, but also for some relationship details due to the younger daughter’s limited comprehension of various family dynamics. Catholicism is rich in iconic symbolism. I tried to include religious allusions and objects that support a deeper meaning. For the Polish references, I combined personal food research with anecdotes a family friend shared about his upbringing.

Weaving these various threads together was a pleasurable challenge. ‘Crusades’ does not provide a clear judgment on the issues it highlights, but as a transplant myself, I hope it provides material to ponder on what each of us considers fundamental and the potential consequences of rigidity.

Me and wall 0215Marie Geth­ins’ work has fea­tured in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, NANO, Control Literary Magazine, Word Bohemia, The Lamp, The Incubator, Circa and Firewords Quarterly. She won or placed in Tethered by Letters flash, Flash500, Drom­i­neer Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val, The New Writer Microfiction, Prick of the Spindle and 99fiction.net. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions Nominee. She lives in Cork, Ireland and is working on her Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

You can read ‘Crusades’ in the new issue of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here. Marie will be reading at A Spring Evening with The Lonely Crowd, at Little Man Coffee Co., Cardiff, May 20th, 730pm. Free admission.

Copyright © Marie Gethins, 2016. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2016.