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Authors: Zillah Bethell

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Keep away from children, it says on the bottle of pills. Good advice. They'll grow. You'll disappear. You'll be drowned to death. Scorched to death. I'd better get rid of them as a safety precaution, even so. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. They look just like Smarties. I'd better get rid of them. One by one by one.

It goes quickly dark but there's a light in the distance like a beckoning new world. A new death. Shall I head towards it as moths always do?

If I'm to walk I'd better set off by two.

Elizabeth

My Death

Body's packed up, ready for the off. No need for suntan cream or bikini where I'm headed. What word shall I end with? Last word on this earth. Something that'll stick. Love, perhaps.

Tinkerbell swooning over Roan's fine-boned, famous face. “Dear Elizabeth, who'd have thought you were related.” Doctor Kharana talking to Dove, his tongue hanging out like Freckles after a bone. Wearing her hair differently in a pretty French plait. Strong as sunlight, deep as the ocean. They flew like arrows somewhere I couldn't follow. And it doesn't matter. I shot my bow as hard as I could. For their sake. Now it's my turn to go somewhere magical. Where they can't follow. Not yet. I take the first step towards the good clear light. Drew fixing up heaven, no doubt, in his white van. This time I shan't turn back.

What word will I end with? Why, mother, of course. No other word needed but mother. Brilliant. Beautiful. Life. My mortal sculptures. My works of art.

I make my way towards the good clean light where I can see and be seen. The new narrative.

Mother. (Job done.)

Zillah Bethell on writing
GIRL IN PROFILE

Why did you choose to write about Gwen John and her experiences in Paris?

I was researching Caravaggio for a short story and a book on Gwen John kept falling out of the library shelf, so I thought: ‘Okay, so you want to be written about'. I became intrigued by her passionate relationship with the sculptor Auguste Rodin and her pared back lifestyle in Paris. Her paintings and personal life (on the surface) seemed to contradict each other and I wanted to probe a little deeper.

Why did you choose to title the book after one of Gwen John's paintings – and this painting in particular?

The book is a succession of moments – like pictures. I wanted the writing to be like painting, sometimes glancing, sometimes going in deep… Lots of repetition, symbols taking on a life of their own, semantic resonances.

Gwen John spent most of her career painting women and girls sitting in rooms – often the same woman/girl over and over again with slight alterations – as if trying to explore what it means to be a woman or confronting the process of creating itself.

I saw
Girl in Profile
at the National Museum of Wales which is partly why I used it as the title. I liked the way she left the flaw in the work. It seemed like the perfect title for my own profiles.

What if anything about Gwen John's life inspired the other characters in the book?

I wanted to think of a woman who was the complete opposite of Gwen John, whose whole life was her children, which led me to create Moth. And then, of course, I imagined Moth as an old woman. Waiting in a room. Waiting for her children to visit, the children she had given everything to, sacrificed everything for. Regretting a little, but ultimately rejoicing in that.

Why do you think that women choose to write to death row prisoners, knowing what they have been sentenced for?

I think many women do write out of compassion – there but for the grace of God and all that – but I think your question is hinting that some women write for romantic reasons which is undoubtedly true. I guess a man on death row is the ultimate bad boy and we think we might be able to reform him. Also there would be a great intensity to the relationship, but I suspect the attraction lies in the fact that they are completely unattainable – it is an emotional investment that is risk free. There's no danger of them actually turning up on our doorstep with a bunch of flowers!

How do you see yourself looking back on your life when you are Elizabeth's age?

I hope I'm still writing books. I hope I'm a big part of my happy and successful children's lives and I hope I'm not in an institution of any sort! I don't think I can ask for more. I think I'd be happy with that.

About the Author

Zillah Bethell
was born in Papua New Guinea, is a graduate of Wadham College, Oxford and now lives in Tondu, south Wales, with her husband and two young children. She has published two novels for adults as well as several short stories and her upcoming novel for children,
A Whisper of Horses,
will be published in autumn 2016 by Piccadilly Press.

ABOUT HONNO

Honno Welsh Women's Press was set up in 1986 by a group of women who felt strongly that women in Wales needed wider opportunities to see their writing in print and to become involved in the publishing process. Our aim is to develop the writing talents of women in Wales, give them new and exciting opportunities to see their work published and often to give them their first ‘break' as a writer. Honno is registered as a community co-operative. Any profit that Honno makes is invested in the publishing programme. Women from Wales and around the world have expressed their support for Honno. Each supporter has a vote at the Annual General Meeting. For more information and to buy our publications, please write to Honno at the address below, or visit our website: www.honno.co.uk

Honno, 14 Creative Units, Aberystwyth Arts Centre Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3GL

Honno Friends

We are very grateful for the support of the Honno Friends: Jane Aaron, Annette Ecuyere, Audrey Jones, Gwyneth Tyson Roberts, Beryl Roberts, Jenny Sabine.

For more information on how you can become a Honno Friend, see: http://www.honno.co.uk/friends.php

First published by Honno Press

‘Ailsa Craig', Heol y Cawl, Dinas Powys, Wales, CF64 4AH

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

© Zillah Bethell, 2016

The right of Zillah Bethell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without clearance from the Publishers.

ISBN 978-1-909983-41-0 paperback

978-1-909983-42-7 ebook

Published with the financial support of the Welsh Books Council.

Cover image: © Shutterstock

Cover design: Rhys Huws

BOOK: Girl in Profile
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