In this blog post series, we’ll feature contributing authors from our new anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy. Today we’ll catch up with Michelle J. Andrew, who is pursuing a degree in stop-motion animation in England. Read through the end for a swoon-worthy romantic date, the likes of which even Amy would approve!
Contributor Michelle J. Andrew reads her childhood copy of Little Women (complete with her sister’s crayon scribbles) with her sons.
What is your favorite scene from Little Women?
The most memorable scene for me is where Jo is struggling to deal with her temper, frustrated and ashamed of having been angry with Amy. It’s a complete surprise when Marmee confesses, “I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo,” an emotion she never allows to escape in Little Women. Marmee goes on to explain that she has struggled to control her anger for 40 years and, through the help and support of her husband, has succeeded in hiding it, though has not stopped feeling it. That, she predicts, may take another 40 years!
This scene turns the seemingly perfect mother into someone I can relate to—more real, more human, even a little flawed. It cements the already strong bond between Jo and her mother. Of the many lessons in this book still relevant to modern life I like this one the best. It shows that one of the most important thing we can teach our children is how to deal with their emotions and that it’s okay to show them we’re not always perfect.
If the March sisters were employed where you work, what would their jobs be?
I’ve had all sorts of jobs – statistical consultant, careers advisor in a prison, housekeeper for the National Trust, even a stint as a research assistant at London Zoo. I’m currently volunteering at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, UK, making 1:8 scale props for an animated short film. It is by far my favourite job to date. The four girls would fit in so well in this environment! Jo would be acting out the part of the film’s main protagonist, Meg would be running a tight ship as Production Manager, Beth would be quietly embroidering a tiny cushion, or adding trim to a lampshade and Amy would be fraternising with the film crew and checking she was seen in the best light!
Who are some of your other “imaginary heroes” from literature?
There is a book, (now out of print) called The Skook by J. P. Miller (screenwriter of Days of Wine and Roses). The book tells the story of a middle-aged man chased by a motorcycle gang who ends up trapped and alone in a cave. Span is an average guy, but the situation tests his mental and physical strength and at his lowest point The Skook appears and helps him find his inner hero. It’s another book I’d love to make into an animated film. Span is the sort of character that stays with you for life.
There are many more—Lucy from the Narnia books, Hazel from Watership Down, and of course, Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights. I’m a fan of the unlikely hero finding hidden reserves of strength and confidence when up against unimaginable odds. My real hero is Louisa May Alcott herself. She’s the strongest, most driven woman I know.
Amy goes to Europe, Jo goes to New York . . . where did your pivotal “coming of age” moment take place?
When I was 17 we had a school exchange. I was due to host a girl from Wisconsin but she pulled out at the last minute and instead I hosted a lovely, quiet, interesting, 17-year-old girl from Connecticut. Kristen and I got on amazingly well. After that first visit we communicated by hand-written letter (remember those?), which took weeks to cross the pond.
This friendship resulted in my first visit to the U.S. I’d just turned 18, lived in a sleepy, rural village on the east coast of England, and had never slept a night away from home before. My first ever flight was alone and 7 hours from London to Boston to be an au pair for the summer. I was terrified and thrilled in equal measure!
Now Kristen and I talk through long irregular emails. We’ve had parallel lives and have managed to visit each other several times. It’s one of the reasons I love New England and how I ended up visiting Orchard House. Her daughters are providing the voice of Lulu for my animated film and they’re doing a great job with my script. She’s been one of my closest friends now for 28 years.
Jo has both a writing space and a “scribbling suit” in the book. What does your writing space look like? What’s your favorite scribbling suit?
I would love to say I have a beautiful white writing desk in a clean bright room scattered with fresh flowers and soft pillows where I write stories in fountain pen on crisp, pretty notepaper—but that’s actually a long way from the truth. This response was written in the back seat of my beat up old car, in the car park of the sport centre, in the time it took my son to finish his kick boxing class.
I write better when I’m up against a deadline so I often type in bed on a laptop at 2 a.m. When I have writer’s block though, I do find that writing with a glass dip pen on proper writing paper does wonders to get the words flowing.
Have you had a “perfect” (or perfect-on-paper) Laurie in your life, only to realize it wasn’t meant to be?
Oh, now that would be telling! But actually . . . yes.
We met in 2005 after finding each other on a dating site—when dating sites were still quite a new thing. We lived 150 miles apart and spent hours of every day for weeks writing long emails to each other before we finally met up. I remember shaking with nerves walking to our arranged rendezvous in town. Rounding a corner, my heart stopped when I saw the most beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed, denim-clad guy I had ever seen in my life, crouched down and searching in his rucksack. That image is engraved in my memory for all time. I was rooted to the spot for that moment before he looked up and saw me staring at him!
We had almost opposite lives. I had recently moved from London to the Derbyshire countryside, enjoyed a quiet life with creative hobbies and wanted to settle down and have a family. He loved the bright lights and bustle of the city and didn’t want children. Not ever. It was doomed from the start even though we were madly in love for a time. We went through a lot of ups and downs and even though we split up we’re still very close friends and spend time together regularly. He’s definitely one of my favourite people.
I will always remember it fondly as one of the most romantic times of my life. On our first date we were walking through a park when the heavens opened and we were entirely drenched. With one look at each other, I picked up my red heels and we ran for the cover of the trees. While I pushed my wet hair out of my face and tried to catch my breath, he surprised me by throwing his arms around my waist, both of us soaked to the skin, and I looked up into those startling, intense blue eyes . . . I didn’t even notice the rain after that.
Michelle J. Andrew is a mature student studying for a master’s degree in stop-motion animation at Staffordshire University. She lives on the bottom edge of the Peak District in rural England and is a single parent of two lovely but spirited little souls. She relates intensely to Louisa becoming a mother at age 46.
She hopes that Louisa would approve of being immortalized in the shape of a six-inch puppet but she suspects Louisa would tell her to go and do something more useful instead.
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