The part of the Arthur legend that has always appealed to me most is Guinevere’s betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot, so it’s not surprising that unfaithfulness and mistrust are at the very heart of my own story.
In Close My Eyes, parents let down children and friends are disloyal to each other, while treachery between couples and marital infidelity are central. I wanted to show how easy it is for a small lie to beget a bigger one – or how one action (say, Art/Arthur’s neglect of Gen/Guinevere) leads to another (Gen/Guinevere looking for attention elsewhere).
Many of the betrayals in my story are linked to each other. For example, the love triangle between Gen, Art and Lorcan arises out of the original affair that Art has with a client’s wife, for which Lorcan agrees to take the blame. This is a moment of weakness for both Art and Lorcan and the two men pay a heavy price for it. Lorcan is ostracized from his colleagues and loathes himself for agreeing to a cover-up, while Art’s fling with the married woman leads, many years later, to Lorcan’s pursuit of Gen.
Betrayal, like love and sex and death, is an eternal theme and it wasn’t hard to find a way of bringing all of these into the story. What seemed more of a challenge when I started planning Close My Eyes was how – even whether – I could find an equivalent for the Holy Grail which Arthur and his knights expend so much energy pursuing. As I wanted to write from a contemporary female perspective I started thinking about what holy grails there are for modern-day women. Of course there are lots of things which women – and men – desire, but I wanted something that felt visceral … that women could and did get obsessed over. Infertility and getting pregnant came to mind immediately. I knew from first-hand experience how, for some women, having a child can become an absolute obsession. It was really at this point that the story (then actually called Grail) started to form in my mind.
As I began planning, I knew I needed to find a modern-day parallel for Arthur as king. It seems to me that the real powerbrokers in Western society are the media and business tycoons who often have a massive influence over our politicians. To that end, I decided Art should be a self-made businessman, rising up (as did King Arthur) from humble beginnings. Art’s father is rich and successful – and not part of Art’s childhood – just like Uther Pendragon in the legend. Art runs his company with ‘a flat hierarchy’, which was my nod to the notion of the Round Table, and his colleagues are his ‘knights’, with many of the names reflecting those of Arthur’s original cohorts.
The parallels continue through certain aspects of the plot as well as in the names. But I should stress that the association was never meant to be literal. The Arthur story was a springboard not a blueprint; when I needed to deviate from it, I did so. Basically, it added a layer to my thinking as I worked, and made the process of writing even more fun!