Monday, 10 March 2014

Research and Proust

Clearing out madness
Marcel Proust said that the remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. For me this quite pertinent as I am writing a story based loosely on a historical event. How far should my research go and how closely to the truth should I stick? But those are questions that face every writer of historical fiction. And I confess I have no answers for you. Only you can decided what is write [sic] for you.

I read the first chapter of this story out at a Writers on Writing event this week. I felt very vulnerable doing that for several reasons. This was the first time the piece had seen the light of day. I had shown no one other than my editor IC, not even my critique group. This in itself might not seem unusual to you but for me it was a totally different way of writing. For the past decade all my writing had been shared. It had always had some form of academic input or supervision. My new novel had none of this and there was a real sense of freedom as I wrote it, also trepidation. Could I do it on my own? I found out yes I could. I could ride without my stabilisers! Even when reading it out I wasn't editing it as I went - a first for me.

Going back to Proust’s comment above. I was asked about my research for my story and I spoke about the work I had done on the horses in my story - which are the focus. I should now point out that the story is based at the end of the Second World War. A member of the audience promptly challenged me, she was a German and the daughter of a Nazi officer, and wanted to know why I wasn’t talking about the research I had done into the people. For me, I hadn’t spoken about it this time as though important and extensive I felt it wouldn’t be as interesting to the audience. Talking to her, it was very obvious that she was seeing the world very differently to me and we were never going to see it the same way but then that is the truth about writing, you are never going to please all of the people all of the time and you just have to accept that. Don't get me wrong I am not dismissing the importance of research. I am great believer in it. Just don’t get so embroiled in doing research that you forget to write your story. Your research and how you do it is up to you, you don’t need to justify it. Just make sure you are true to yourself.

The sun has been shining and the weekend has been all about reclaiming life and about nostalgia. Milan Kundera says the Greek work for ‘return’ is nostos and algos means  ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return, which seems quite a negative idea. I have been wallowing in nostalgia this weekend but with no desire to return to those moments just to enjoy the memories. I have been going through some bags that I cleared out of my mother’s house full of photos and documents. There have been tears and laughter all in a good way. So my nostalgia has been about moving forward with my life and my story which is embedded within history.

While the sun was shining there was  a lot of clearing out as can be seen by the number of bin bags in the photo - I may have gone a bit mad! Am busily trying to create a clear work space for writing both my books in. 

Here's is something from my sound track. I saw them live many years ago and it reminds me of when my children were small and sunny weekends like the one we just had. 

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