The Other Side of Silence is a novel about many things; intergenerational trauma, unresolved grief, the way in which the quality of our relationships affects our lives, and vitally about the possibility of change.
It explores something that has fascinated me in life, both in my own experience and in my work with others; how the windows of opportunity in life, those points that come about through a combination of luck and timing, offer each of us the possibility of transforming the life we live, and what happens when we grasp these opportunities or shy away from them.
The very writing of this book is a case in point. The whole story arc came into my head (a rare thing), and I took the time to write it down rather than let it slip away into my unconscious, like any other waking dream. A few days later I wrote the first three to four pages of the story, then I saved it in a file on my computer alongside the start pieces of two to three other novels, and went back to yet another rewrite of my first novel.
Two years later I came back to it and I wrote the central narrative over the next six months. However, I still had no title and I felt the book was too short. I found the title by chance, during a car journey, while discussing the storyline of my book with my husband and daughter. My daughter said “it reminds me of my favourite quote” and proceeded to recite the George Eliot quote: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence” (George Eliot, Middlemarch). I had my title.
This title then became an integral part of the rest of the writing of my novel, as the flashback scenes I proceeded to add throughout the book represent “The Other Side of Silence”. They are meant to give the reader a far deeper understanding of each character’s background, emotional trauma and internal world. The title is also there in the last sentence of the book, when the main character remains silent, but the reader is aware of her thoughts and feelings.
Strangely, I never felt it required a single rewrite!
Another thing that this book explores is what happens when painful truths are faced, and how greater intimacy can occur when such understanding is shared, not avoided. This theme ties in with the first and they do a constant dance around each other. Throughout the novel, the way in which each character responds to an opportunity that arises, and takes the risk to communicate at a deeper level or shies away from such an opportunity, impacts greatly on their life in a week where life and death issues are literally at play.
For me writing a novel is a play-space; where characters emerge and grow and begin to relate to each other in all sorts of interesting ways. Often something a character says or does reminds me of an aspect of myself, or of someone I know, but then surprisingly that character will react in completely unexpected ways. It’s always a journey of discovery.
Pauline Schokman was born in Sri Lanka and as a child migrated with her family to Australia in the mid-1960s. She is a general medical practitioner who practiced for more than a decade before training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, a field in which she has worked for over twenty years. She lives and practices in Melbourne. Her novel The Other Side of Silence is published this week by Karnac.