And welcome to my stop on the #Shell tour.There has been a re-surging trend in classics re-tellings, so when I heard about Shell I could not help wondering how “Frankenstein”‘s Mary Shelly influenced Lucy’s story, so…I asked Paula Rawsthorne and her account that you’re about to read below is fascinating.
The actual spark for my novel Shell came from my teenage daughter who asked, ‘What if rich people could pay to cheat death by somehow keeping themselves alive?’ I was intrigued by this question and became fascinated, not by people trying to live to an incredible old age, but rather at the prospect of body transplants where the rich could pay to have the young, fit body of a donor. Now the concept of body transplants sounds like pure science fiction but the more I researched the subject the more I realized that there are scientists out there attempting to make it a reality. The complexity of the procedure may mean that it will forever remain impossible. However medicine and science are making such phenomenal advances that nothing can be dismissed.
The idea of body transplants feeds into the primal desire of humans to prolong their lives and any scientists who succeeds will surely feel God-like. However, the whole area is riddled with ethical and moral issues and it’s this aspect which also fascinates me. I’m always interested in what science and technology may be able to achieve in the near- future and the dilemmas that will come with these advances as society grapples with the implications. Once something has been achieved in science, no matter how unethical, how is it then possible to impose restrictions on it? There will always be rogue scientists who consider themselves above the law.
So, as I thought about Shell I found that many of the themes I was mulling over chimed with Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein (a novel that I love) and I was excited at the prospect of writing a tale influenced by such a great work. Shell, about a dying teenage girl who is given a body transplant, may feel like a very different story but it takes inspiration from Mary Shelley’s concept of an arrogant scientist trying to play God by creating a life which is ‘against nature’.
Frankenstein is such a tremendous gothic novel that still resonates today with its themes of scientists playing God, the rejection of your own ‘child’ and the debate over who is the true monster in the story. It’s been so influential that the very word, Frankenstein, has become shorthand for science ‘out of control’ of ethical boundaries. The concept has become part of the creation myth of today’s world and that’s one hell of a legacy for a novel written by an eighteen year old. The circumstances behind the writing of Frankenstein makes for a fabulous story, in its own right, and well worth reading about.
I love the darkness and drama of Frankenstein and the fact that Mary Shelley doesn’t pull her punches – people pay dearly for what Victor Frankenstein has unleashed and there’s no happy ending. That takes a lot of guts in a writer. I wanted to pay homage to Frankenstein and acknowledge its relevance to the story so readers will see that Lucy has to study the novel in her English class. The ensuing class discussion and quote from Mary Shelley’s work only make Lucy feel, more sharply, that she is like the creature, a freak who will be rejected by society.
In Shell I wanted to put the ‘creation’ (Lucy) centre stage. That’s why I’ve written the novel in the first person, all from Lucy’s point of view. I hoped it would give the reader true empathy for Lucy and the chance to feel what it would be like to be trapped inside someone else’s body with all the physical and psychological trauma that could involve. As well as examining the consequences of a scientist messing with nature, the biggest question at the heart of Shell is ‘what makes us who we are?’ What gives us our sense of self? Is our body just a shell or is it an integral part of our identity? Can Lucy still be herself now that she’s trapped in another girl’s body?
Mary Shelley made her monster physically grotesque. On purpose, I give Lucy a body which is more attractive than her original form, and in both stories people treat them in a particular way just because of how they look. This is something that I wanted to explore. It’s significant that Mary Shelley made her monster intelligent and sensitive – I think that she was telling us to look beyond the shell to see the real person and that’s something that Lucy is desperate for the people she loves to be able to do.