Interviewed by Sommer Schafer

Read Odette Lester Brady’s fiction piece, Legacy

Sommer: We already know so much about these three siblings’ characters by the end of the first page just by what you show us: Rick already drinking with his dirty bare feet up, Bradley with his tidy gear and plans and level-headedness, and the narrator, Jacqueline, keenly aware of “the hole left open for thinking needing filling up” and the brokenness each of them is trying to compensate for. It’s very well done. I’m curious as to how intimately feeling these siblings and their character differences fully affects the story’s plotline and meaning? Thus, did you find that it was integral to open the story with them fully developed to us, or was it more organic than that?

Odette: I knew I wanted the reader to be aware of the adult and child versions of them. When it comes to our parents, so many of us revert and both versions of the siblings needed to be visible. Getting very clear roles established—the sensible big brother and the naughty youngest—mirrored them in childhood when age gaps would have been more meaningful, which in turn gave emphasis to their siblinghood. I pictured them as children from a nostalgic book like The Famous Five by Enid Blyton as they trudged around exploring with nowhere specific to be, hitting things with sticks and looking over fences.

I love how you crafted the plotline of this story: the siblings’ physical walk to a place to scatter their parents’ ashes mirrors the narrator’s mental walk through past and present as she faces the tragic reality of her and her brothers’ violent upbringing. Thus, there is this beautiful pacing—a loping forward trajectory that is interspersed by moments of memory and moments of presence that is extremely affecting. As you were crafting this story, how did you determine when to stop (for memory or scene) and when to keep going?

The past can feel inescapable, and I wanted the reader to experience the involuntary remembering that can be traumatic and happy at the same time. But when it came to the specifics of when to splice the action with memory, a rhythm revealed itself as I wrote.

And Jacqueline’s fear of her past was important for her character but also in the plotting. If she had been more open to remembering the past, I would have struggled to find the tension. She needed to put up a fight, so the past had to leak out gradually.

For those who come from violent upbringings, I wonder if it’s not a matter of healing (which, frankly, can’t really happen), but a matter of learning to work with what is left. This story is so moving because we see that each sibling is learning to work with their “legacy” in very different ways, and there’s no judgement about it. It simply is. And as different and broken as they are, they have each other, which is a thing of beauty. For me, their legacy is the fact that they survived and are together, taking care of and concerned about each other, at the end of the story. Sorry, I guess there’s no question here, just admiration!

Thank you for saying that! I’m so happy to hear the relationship and the conclusion read as tender because that’s exactly what I’d hoped for. I agree, the most they can do is keep moving, keep walking and do what they can to honour their parents. All that despite the complexity of the family, and the gravitas of a love they felt for people who probably didn’t deserve it.

The war that predated the children (it’s WWII in my mind), how it broke the parents down, and then the hints that Vanessa is coming to terms with having Bradley as her father, were also part of the legacy concept. I was thinking of “legacy” as a continual energy that mutates as it’s handed down. And, while it would be naïve and insensitive to hold up the past as an excuse for wrong behaviour, I wonder if legacy is something closer to a continuous thread, rather than a discrete bond between one generation and the next. It was something that I felt deeply as I was writing this story.

What are you working on these days, and is there any method to the madness?

I always work on long and short pieces simultaneously. Each one gives me relief from the other and keeps me feeling fresh when I sit down to write.

The novel I’m currently working on is my third, although I am yet to publish one. It’s set in London in the noughties, about a woman who becomes enthralled with the idea that tech-types are trying to solve social problems. She drops out of her life to join in and is set on a course for riches, but also bitter disappointment and betrayal.

It’s about how the drive for personal success leads good people to develop moral blinkers, and how commercial endeavours dress themselves up as philanthropic. It feels like a sticky modern phenomenon.

The short story is a horror about female friendship and ecology, but only if I can marry it all together without it sounding too mad.  Madness might be just the word, actually!

Do you have any advice to writers on handling rejection?

I’m learning that it’s okay to take it badly sometimes. It’s difficult to predict which ones will sting, but when I get one that hurts, I tell someone. A friend will invariably say something soothing.

Since I started being more business-like about submitting, getting to know journals better and planning lists of potential homes for each piece, rejection has become part of the job. If I’m not getting rejections regularly, I’m not submitting enough. It sounds perverse, but it has made it easier.

Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!

Thank you, Sommer. It has been a total pleasure. I’m thrilled to be able to say I have something published by The Forge.