(Corrects spelling of "Allison" in headline, first paragraph)
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO May 10 A fear of flying inspired
bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch's latest book, centering
on a woman who awakes in a hospital with total amnesia, one of
two people left alive after a massive plane crash.
"The Song Remains the Same" follows Nell Slattery as she
tries to piece together her former life even as her nearest and
dearest - her husband, mother and sister - all feed her
information about who she was in line with their own personal
agendas and issues.
Scotch spoke with Reuters about her book, identity and who
we are without our memories.
Q: What was the seed for this book?
A: "I'm not a good flyer, to be honest with you. I travel a
lot, but I think once I had kids I sort of developed a - I don't
want to say paralyzing fear, because I fly - but I'm a really
nervous flyer. I have plane crash dreams when I'm stressed out,
really acute plane crash dreams, and I've had them for a decade.
It gets in your psyche. It was my way of coping with my own
anxiety about the worst happening to you. So I really started
with that seed of, what if you're in a plane crash, and
obviously you have to survive that or there's no book. What
happens if you're in a plane crash and how do you then live your
life, when you've lived through the unliveable?"
Q: What took you to the next step, the idea of losing memory
A: "I enjoy writing about women or men, any characters, who
have a chance to reinvent themselves... I guess I was just
struck with the concept of what happens when just everything is
taken away from you, and yet you're put back in the safe life.
Do you make the same choices, do you find the same satisfaction
in what you found before? I'm in my thirties, and a lot of my
peers are right in the trenches of child-rearing, and some of my
friends aren't married and some of my friends aren't happily
married. You question should I work, should I not work? I think
if a lot of us were presented with a clean slate, who's to say
we'd make those same choices? So that's really how I came up
with the concept, obviously taking it to a higher level since
you're writing a book. You can't have a character just sitting
around navel-gazing, wondering if she made the right choices.
The amnesia allowed for that.
"I was also really interested in playing with the
perspective that everybody has of the universe. In the book, her
mom, her sister, her husband - everybody sees that through their
own filter. I think that happens in life. You can look at a
husband and wife and they will have shared the same event, but
they may have two really different takes on it. I think that's
an interesting concept, how we all skew it to our own lives and
our own betterment, how that affects the decisions you make."
Q: What ideas and thoughts about memory came up for you
while you were plotting and writing?
A: "I realized, and I think it's not something you think
about from day to day, but so much of who we are in our present
is really based on the decisions that we have made in our past.
You think about all the people you dated and hopefully about the
knowledge you accrued that maybe led to marrying your spouse and
choosing your partner. Or the jobs that you've had that you
enjoyed, or maybe pigeonholed you into a job you didn't enjoy.
Or your friendships. Certainly I think a lot of us have friends
with whom the relationship is based on a collective history, and
if you're put in a room with them now, who knows how much you
would have in common? But you have the memories of who you were
in high school or in college, and that really bonds you. So I
thought about all of that, I thought about where I would be
without the decisions I'd made in my twenties or if I couldn't
remember those loves or those friendships.
"Also how complicated it can be to bring your baggage from
your past into your present. And there's the refreshing thing -
wouldn't it be great not to have that baggage? Nell is really
faced with that."
Q: When you write, do you plan everything out first?
A: "I don't. I literally start with the idea, what happens
if a woman is in a plane crash and she wakes up with no memory.
I usually have maybe the first 50 pages really well mapped out
just in my head, and then I keep a running document of maybe
three or four scenes of what's coming next. But I have written a
book where I mapped a lot of it out and I found it really
difficult to stay true to the spirit of the story. Because for
me, some things that happen with my characters are really
unexpected and if I have to say where they'll be on page 300, I
can't know that on page 150 without taking them through their
story. That's just what works for me. I try to keep a certain
honesty in the events and if I really back them into an event, I
don't feel like it's an honest book. So I really just start with
the idea and then I fill in the characters, I create a backstory
for them. I think of all the things that could go wrong in their
lives and I build a book around that."
(Editing by Paul Casciato and Paul Tait)