One of the pleasures of writing with others is the ideas that spring up for another story or expression needed in a piece you may be struggling with, or need a fresh idea, i.e., as in Diana’s post Wordsmithing. This then reminded me of the novel by Sarah Waters, Fingersmith. An intriguing story set in 1860s London which then took me back to a zoom nine-week workshop during covid, Craft of Fiction. One of the assignments was to teach how to know a character better by writing various scenes through different stages of life, and circumstances, what if this happened or that, how would your character react, and so on. As mentioned, Leona always pops up. Since a pair of ‘white gloves’ is the driving force in her story, I used this exercise to know more about her and her mother’s early relationship. Until this piece, I did not have a clue Leona’s mother would have a name, yet, here it came, Winsette Sullivan, all from a pair of initials that needed to be spelled out…
Among her slips and underwear, Leona kept a pair of white gloves that her mother gave her. Leona truly wanted her mother’s that bore the stitched monogram of ‘WS’, but the replicas would have to do for now. She adored time with her mother and recollected that afternoon when her tiny hand vanished within the knitted folds of the fingers and the two buttons that clasped at the top around the wrist.
“Fingersmith” her mother teased her when she gave them to her. “They belonged to a fingersmith who lived in London on Lant Street and came across the ocean and ended up in my antique shop.”
“What’s a finnersmith?” Leona’s mother chuckled and picked up a glove.
“Finger, finger” and she held up her hand and wiggled her fingers down into one white glove. “It is someone who steals others’ belongings. They wore gloves, such as these, a woman, not a man, so as not to leave fingerprints and to look very much like a lady.” Leona slipped her hand into the other glove which came up to her five-year-old elbow and peered inside the dark space between the glove and her arm.
“What things did they steal?”
“Oh, let’s see. A lady’s purse with shillings, a bottle of scent, watches, jewelry, silver candlesticks, silk petticoats, anything of silver or gold that could be melted into bars which brought lots of money, plates, teaspoons, whatever a thief’s fancy and opportunity might bring.” Leona swept her arm like a magic wand and collected all the items her mother just mentioned and pretended to scatter them across her bed.
“Do you have to go to school to be a finner…fingersmith?”
“Hardly. It’s all about nerve, acquired skill, and pure pleasure.”
This exercise dove more into the sociological aspect of forming a character using upbringing. What did you discover about Leona’s mother? (There are a number of hints.) What did you notice about mother-daughter relationship? The more you can explore your character(s), the more multi-dimensional they become via contradictions, likes, dislikes, and so on. As a reader, you choose your character/interest carefully since you will be spending time with them; therefore, a writer will spend a great deal of time with their character and goes where their story may lead the writer, revealing little secrets.