Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Cactus"

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.

After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.

Haywood completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.

Haywood applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Cactus, and reported the following:
At the age of forty-five, Susan Green finds that her carefully-constructed world is turned upside down; one of the catalysts is her unexpected pregnancy. The soon-to-be father is Richard, a man with whom she’s had a ‘relationship’ of mutual convenience based on the strict understanding that there’s no emotional involvement from either party. The Cactus is written from Susan’s perspective, so we’re in her head the whole time. Page 69 begins with her explaining to the reader why she’s ended the arrangement with Richard, who, annoyingly, is standing on her doorstep:
I could imagine the scene being played out: I tell Richard I’m pregnant; he assumes I’ve done it deliberately because I want a baby or some kind of permanence to our relationship; I try to convince him that it’s the last thing on earth I’d want to happen; he offers gallantly to pay for the termination and accompany me to the clinic; I seethe with anger at his condescension and pity. No, much better to end it cleanly and swiftly.
It’s clear from this paragraph that Susan is a strong-minded, independent woman. All well and good, but she’s taken it to extremes. She refuses to be swayed by emotion and is determined to rely on logic alone when making her life choices. She never lets down her guard, so she can never be hurt.

Later on page 69, Richard, who has no idea that Susan’s carrying his child, endeavours to persuade her to resume their personal arrangement. In the course of his appeal, he says:
“I understand why you sent (the message ending the relationship). You want something beyond what we currently have, some guarantee that you won’t be alone as you enter middle age. I didn’t think I’d be able to make such a commitment, but if not doing so means I’m going to forfeit our time together, then I’m prepared to give you what you want.”
Richard genuinely believes he’s offering Susan what she desires: more regular contact and a greater commitment from him. We know better. With his self-conscious magnanimity, Richard’s not only being as tactless as Susan can be herself (“alone”, “middle age”), he’s also completely misinterpreting her motives.

So, is page 69 representative of the rest of The Cactus? Not entirely. There’s an element of humour, as there is throughout the book. Here, it’s in Richard’s pomposity and obliviousness; in the rest of the novel, it’s in Susan’s rigid but misguided opinions, and in the eccentric people she encounters. Page 69 gives both a snapshot of Susan’s character early on in the novel, and the background to her decision to proceed with the pregnancy alone. What’s missing, though, are the other main plot threads: Susan’s efforts to overturn her mother’s will favouring her brother, Edward; her exploration of her family history; and her developing relationships with Edward’s best friend, Rob, and her neighbour, Kate. It’s these experiences, as much as the prospect of becoming a mother, which cause Susan to bloom.
Visit Sarah Haywood's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Haywood.

My Book, The Movie: The Cactus.

--Marshal Zeringue