Memory and re-invention with Alison Winn Scotch
Reuters, Thursday 10 May 2012
A fear of flying inspired bestselling author Alison Winn Scotch's latest book, centering on a woman who awakes in a hospital with total amnesia, one of two people left alive after a massive plane crash

"The Song Remains the Same" is Alison Winn Scotch's latest book. It follows Nell Slattery, who wakes with total amnesia after surviving a plane crash, as she tries to piece together her former life even as her nearest and dearest - her husband, mother and sister - all feed her information about who she was in line with their own personal agendas and issues.

Scotch spoke with Reuters about her book, identity and who we are without our memories.

Q: What was the seed for this book?

A: "I'm not a good flyer, to be honest with you. I travel a lot, but I think once I had kids I sort of developed a - I don't want to say paralyzing fear, because I fly - but I'm a really nervous flyer. I have plane crash dreams when I'm stressed out, really acute plane crash dreams, and I've had them for a decade. It gets in your psyche. It was my way of coping with my own anxiety about the worst happening to you. So I really started with that seed of, what if you're in a plane crash, and obviously you have to survive that or there's no book. What happens if you're in a plane crash and how do you then live your life, when you've lived through the unliveable?"

Q: What took you to the next step, the idea of losing memory and everything?

A: "I enjoy writing about women or men, any characters, who have a chance to reinvent themselves... I guess I was just struck with the concept of what happens when just everything is taken away from you, and yet you're put back in the safe life. Do you make the same choices, do you find the same satisfaction in what you found before? I'm in my thirties, and a lot of my peers are right in the trenches of child-rearing, and some of my friends aren't married and some of my friends aren't happily married. You question should I work, should I not work? I think if a lot of us were presented with a clean slate, who's to say we'd make those same choices? So that's really how I came up with the concept, obviously taking it to a higher level since you're writing a book. You can't have a character just sitting around navel-gazing, wondering if she made the right choices. The amnesia allowed for that.

"I was also really interested in playing with the perspective that everybody has of the universe. In the book, her mom, her sister, her husband - everybody sees that through their own filter. I think that happens in life. You can look at a husband and wife and they will have shared the same event, but they may have two really different takes on it. I think that's an interesting concept, how we all skew it to our own lives and our own betterment, how that affects the decisions you make."

Q: What ideas and thoughts about memory came up for you while you were plotting and writing?

A: "I realized, and I think it's not something you think about from day to day, but so much of who we are in our present is really based on the decisions that we have made in our past. You think about all the people you dated and hopefully about the knowledge you accrued that maybe led to marrying your spouse and choosing your partner. Or the jobs that you've had that you enjoyed, or maybe pigeonholed you into a job you didn't enjoy. Or your friendships. Certainly I think a lot of us have friends with whom the relationship is based on a collective history, and if you're put in a room with them now, who knows how much you would have in common? But you have the memories of who you were in high school or in college, and that really bonds you. So I thought about all of that, I thought about where I would be without the decisions I'd made in my twenties or if I couldn't remember those loves or those friendships.

"Also how complicated it can be to bring your baggage from your past into your present. And there's the refreshing thing - wouldn't it be great not to have that baggage? Nell is really faced with that."

Q: When you write, do you plan everything out first?

A: "I don't. I literally start with the idea, what happens if a woman is in a plane crash and she wakes up with no memory. I usually have maybe the first 50 pages really well mapped out just in my head, and then I keep a running document of maybe three or four scenes of what's coming next. But I have written a book where I mapped a lot of it out and I found it really difficult to stay true to the spirit of the story. Because for me, some things that happen with my characters are really unexpected and if I have to say where they'll be on page 300, I can't know that on page 150 without taking them through their story. That's just what works for me. I try to keep a certain honesty in the events and if I really back them into an event, I don't feel like it's an honest book. So I really just start with the idea and then I fill in the characters, I create a backstory for them. I think of all the things that could go wrong in their lives and I build a book around that."