About Melanie Golding
Melanie Golding is a recent graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, with distinction. Her short stories have been chosen to be recorded as podcasts by the Leicester-based festival Story City in 2015 and 2016, and to be performed at both the regular Stroud Short Stories event and their special ‘best of’ event at Cheltenham Literature Festival. In 2017 she won the short story prize at the Mid Somerset Festival, as well as the Evelyn Sanford trophy for highest mark in the prose class. She has taught creative writing in prisons and Young Offenders Institutions, as well as teaching music in a school for boys with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. She is now a full-time registered childminder and splits her time between that and writing. Little Darlings is her debut novel and has been optioned for screen by Free Range Films, the team behind the adaptation of My Cousin Rachel.
Words // Melanie Golding
Little Darlings represents a culmination of twin obsessions: the post-birth experience, which I spent many years processing, and the use of stories, especially folk-tales, to explain and order life. I was delighted to discover that recently Will Storr has written an entire book that articulates and backs up with scientific evidence my unformed inklings about story. He puts it much better than I could when he says, “The consolation of story is truth…To enter the flawed mind of another is to be reassured that it’s not only us…Story’s gift is the hope that we might not be quite so alone, in that dark bone vault, after all.” (Storr, 2019, pg. 203).
With Lauren’s terrifying post-birth experience, I knew I was writing something that many women would identify with. I also knew I was writing something that might be taboo, that was certainly frightening, but needed to be done, if only for myself. The story that follows is in part a metaphor, a fictionalisation of the terror of being a parent, the high stakes, the fear. Little Darlings has been described as ‘the most addictive and haunting debut of 2019.’ I tried to tap into that profound, largely unspoken fear, kept secret until after the event, that rite of passage: how it actually feels to bring a baby into this terrifying world. What might happen, I wondered, if the stakes were even higher than that? If, once the babies were in the world, they were threatened again, with being switched?
Folk tales were once an aural tradition, passed from mouth to ear without being written down, changed along the way by the whims of the teller, belonging not to no-one but to everyone. The beginnings of a tale settle you in, the rhythms of it reassure: I heard this story, listen close. It might tell you something about yourself. Story orders life. In a pre-scientific era, story also literally offered an explanation where one was needed. Before medicine and psychology, there were witchcraft and fairies, the latter, in the absence of the former, given the same everyday faith.
Changeling tales can be found in the historical storytelling traditions of most cultures; when things went wrong, the fair folk were often blamed. It has been suggested that changelings were used to explain developmental disability in infants, or sudden onset of disability in adults which couldn’t be immediately understood. In thinking about the newborn changeling tales I found, I noticed that the symptoms of post-partum psychosis, if viewed by a person with no knowledge of such a thing, might fit in. Maybe A Brewery of Eggshells wasn’t about the babies at all, but about the mental state of the mother.
These days, not many people believe in fairies and goblins and ghosts. Some will admit there are things they don’t know, that there are limits to our understanding of the world, but in general people assume we live at the pinnacle of human endeavour. Pity the peasants of yesteryear: this generation knows best. And yet. We look out over the water, where we know there is a drowned village. We feel the shiver; we wonder what lies beneath, what human secrets, what stories; what truth.