Detailing the growth of a friendship between two neighbours- a young boy and an elderly man with more in common than they could ever imagine- The Promise Seed is a sensitive exploration of the bonds between people of different ages, the lasting effects of trauma, and how your past doesn’t define your whole life.
We spoke with author Cass Moriarty about the publication of her first novel.
When was the “seed” of this story first planted in your mind?
I started writing [The Promise Seed] about four years ago, and when I started I had a very clear idea in my head of the old man and his voice, his story and his situation. I knew that something had happened to him as a child that foreshadowed his whole life but I didn’t know exactly what that was. So that’s how it started; the boy came in later.
You used some effective narrative techniques; first-person perspective for the old man, and third-person for the boy. When did you decide to have that parallel, condensing storyline, where the old man is talking about his life?
As I said, it started with the old man, and it just seemed natural to do that in the first-person… Because his recollections are so personal as he’s looking back over his life, it makes sense, because it’s as if he’s speaking directly to you. When he meets the boy, the boy sort of creeps into his life like he creeps into the story. Gradually their two narratives began to connect, and it all becomes one thing at the end.
Your use of language is very evocative and paints a picture that’s familiar to anyone who lives in Brisbane. It’s almost as if when you’re reading it, you can see those scenes playing out in locations that you know. Did you spend much time trying to collect and recreate the imagery of what you saw around you?
I was conscious while I was writing that whenever I went anywhere in Brisbane, I had to be drinking in the environment. It is a very recognisable landscape to anyone who lives here. I think it’s nice to read books that have that kind of familiarity with the setting, because I think it grounds you. Of course I love reading books about foreign cities and countries, but there’s something really nice about that familiarity.
You’re a mother of six children. How did your own life inform the themes of childhood innocence and protection of youth that “The Promise Seed” deals with?
I think having six children- certainly, having any children- has had a huge impact on my writing, as did the fact that I was a volunteer counsellor at crisis care when I was younger. I helped others deal with family dysfunction, family violence and other issues. I think you’re more conscious, as a reader and as a writer, of children’s stories if you yourself have children that are of a similar age to the characters that you’re writing or reading about. Even when you read the newspaper, and see something about a seven year-old: if you have a seven year-old, it resonates more strongly with you, because you know just how innocent that child is. I think for me to be able to write, I really need that life experience: I don’t think I could have written this book twenty years ago.
It’s almost like we know these two characters. They’re familiar to us. Maybe it’s because they’re not named- we can see people and personalities that we know in them, and perhaps we see bits of ourselves in them, too.
I think that was part of the thing with not naming them, which wasn’t a conscious thing I did at the beginning, it just sort of happened. By the end, I was really happy that I hadn’t named them, because they could be anyone. The boy could be any child, and the old man represents many elderly people who are living alone, who have become isolated, perhaps with no family left and without many surviving friends. It’s almost like they embody those nameless statistics.
You’ve written a book where the two must vulnerable age groups- the elderly and the young- come together to support each other in a really relatable, honest way. You touched on the fact that people outside of that friendship may view it in a certain way, but for those two characters, their bond is purely supportive.
I think that’s a very important issue to come out of the novel- people are very suspicious of relationships between adults and children that are not in their own family, and sometimes they’re right to be suspicious of that. But often I think kids need as many adult role-models in their life as they can get. The more the better, and a variety of role-models. I think we need to foster and encourage those kind of relationships, because kids can give so much to adults and adults can give so much to kids. Older adults in particular: they’ve got a huge amount of experience and wisdom to share.
The hope and the ideal is that a family takes care of a child and raises them and nurtures them. But in cases where that doesn’t happen for whatever reason- if the family isn’t available, or emotionally available- it’s good that there’s other avenues for these kids. It’s hopeful. Just because kids may go through a really terrible time doesn’t mean that they can’t go on to live happy, fulfilling lives. They can be nurtured by other people in their community.
Words by Kate Bethune