Grandmother’s house in the woods – place of challenge and transformation, the place young women go to be turned into themselves. For me, Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and Baba Yaga are almost the same person. Neither of my biological grandmothers lived in cottages in the woods, but in my head, this is the place of grandmothers, and it has an archetypal force to it that I can’t resist.
This is why I’ve got two novels where Granny’s house in the woods features. When We Are Vanished (coming soon) has a grandmother house of transformation, and some uncertainty about whose grandmother actually owns the place! I’m currently chipping away at a novel where a deceased grandmother with a house in a valley plays a similar role – the house is a place of initiation and transformation.
My maternal grandmother’s house was a place of ghosts and cats, a place of hoarded things, where art was made, and cakes. It could be a refuge, or a place of argument and it featured heavily in my childhood. It is not the house I write about. My paternal grandmother lived in a small bungalow, and I don’t write about that space, either.
Grandmother’s house is a place of longing, and belonging. It has mythic and archetypal qualities. Perhaps we crave the fairytale granny who is all smiles and baking. Perhaps we need Mother Holle to teach us how to be women. Perhaps we need to go and ask Baba Yaga for fire.
And so when I write, I go into the woods inside my head in search of a grandmother figure. I’m writing significant absences – I don’t really know how to write this grandmother as a tangible presence, but perhaps that’s part of the point.
Grandmother’s house is somewhere around the next bend in the path. We can smell the woodsmoke. We’ve heard the chickens, although whether they will be cute, domestic chickens or something else, and whether grandmother is really a wolf, we’re still waiting to know. Perhaps we can only know when we become her.