Rory Spearing: What inspired you to write “The Gift”?
Diane Allerdyce: Listening to various stories my father told me about his childhood over time, I was able to imagine him as a little boy within the same geographical setting where I, too, came of age.
RS: The setting is so real. It’s very effective the way the boy delayed gratification of reading his father’s letter; rather than reading it all in one go, he skims it and saves it for a later reading in his private place. We all had one.
DA: I know! Those descriptions of the trees in the woods came from my own experience. I was able to put him in a situation that was important to me.
RS: It seems to me you’ve re-created in great detail a somewhat intimate portrait of your father as he was then and informed by your relationship with him when you were a child.
DA: It reverses the age difference. I was always the child looking up to him as an adult, but here I'm putting myself in his place to understand what it might've been like to be him as a child.
RS: What comes through very clearly when I read the story was how a well-meaning but absent father could inflict such enormous emotional pain on his son without really meaning to. I found it profoundly moving, to tell you the truth.
DA: I think that as we grow older, the “aha” moment is realizing our parents’ vulnerability, their humanity. We come to understand things they had to deal with the best they could.
RS: Sometimes children see some of their parents’ acts as normal but confusing—the self-absorption of the distracted parent who is yet looked up to as the pilot in the sky.
DA: That was one of my dad’s most vivid descriptions--how he would look up into the sky and tell other kids it was his dad flying the airplane.
RS: And the boy’s father in the story is based on your dad’s father, your grandfather.
DA: Yes, but the story isn’t about him. And because it’s fiction, the little boy isn’t actually my father either. I think that's the value of writing fiction. It’s not a portrait of my father as much as it is a story about a little boy that experienced what I imagined my father experienced based on what he told me over the years-- to the point that I'm not even sure how much of what I have in the story is born from my own imagination and how much came from the stories he told me.
RS: I’m not so sure that there’s any difference actually because you’re referring to a subconscious process. What we write comes down the hand into the pen.
DA: Or, in my case, the keyboard.
RS: The mother figure too. Though she doesn't play a particularly large role in the story, it's significant. She's the rock, the anchor. I wanted to know more about her—her own goals. I enjoyed the snippets we got about her and her determination to be the glue to hold everything together.
"I found it liberating to be able to extrapolate on reality, to imagine the inner life of another person."
DA: Right, that was my Nana. But I think for me the process of writing the story goes beyond portraying particular people.
RS: Yet you used some of the characters’ real names? Why?
DA: I wanted to honor them by leaving the residue of their actual names in the story. And because there's nobody in the story that’s still alive, I felt free to do that without having to follow some of the restrictions I might have if I were writing about living people.
RS: When one has the inspiration to write a story about people in a place, it can seem unnecessarily important to hold onto those. For legal or privacy reasons writers don't do that, generally speaking, but this is an interesting exception. It’s kind of a nice twist on things to be able to keep something alive, especially for people you knew, and knew by name.
DA: I found it liberating to be able to extrapolate on reality, to imagine the inner life of another person.
RS: I sense a profound love there. You were able to interpret and understand the boy’s feelings. His sensitivity and keen intelligence, qualities your father must have had as an adult too, despite the deep hurt and the loneliness, and the feeling of rejection.
DA: Perhaps because of them too.
RS: What was your father like as an adult?
DA: To some extent a product of the times . . . .
RS: How so?
DA: Somewhat patriarchal, I’d say. But he was also the cool father with the longish hair. The father at church who defended me when other parents complained about my asking too many rebellious questions that might lead their kids astray. He was the father that promised I would have a horse by the time I was ten. The year I turned ten, he actually traded houses with a neighbor, one who had enough land to have a horse on, so that he could keep his promise.
RS: So although the anecdote about the horse isn’t part of the story, it probably inspired your portrayal of the man that, for all his flaws—we all have them, of course—was determined to never not send you the gift. He promised you something, and it happened.
DA: That’s a great point.
RS: What does that mean to you, in the end?
DA: By imagining my father's reality and extrapolating all the stories that he told me in conjunction with my own experiences growing up, I think it I was who was given a gift.
RS: In the story, the boy doesn’t receive a gift in the conventional sense. That was the crux of the story. But there is a gift, and a very real one after all.