Thursday, 19 June 2008

Surrender the day

It's no good. Today was never going to be my day. I woke in a foul mood, snappy as a handbag, and didn't improve as the hours wore on. I wrote a few words, not quite 500. I finished re-reading A bit on the side by William Trevor. I shopped, and chored my way through the afternoon. All day I have been struck by the thought that you have to be heartless to be a writer. To write truthfully and meaningfully, with compassion, you have to put aside all qualms about articulating pain and provoking it in your reader.

I was brought up in a house where silence was considered golden. My mother's incredibly close relationship with her mother was founded on the most profound silence between them on the subject of their shared experience in a Japanese internment camp during WWII, my mother never speaking of her father, who died in the camp. To talk about that horror and loss and unhappiness was considered cruel and unusual. It was not done. But I want to talk about it. I want to write about it.

I want to write about my father dying at the age of sixty of Motor Neurone Disease, of losing him and my great-uncle and my grandmother all in the space of nine months, when I was carrying my first child. I want to break the silence and to do that I needs must be heartless. There is no other word for it. Of course I should like to dress it up as courageous and important, say how I hope to touch other (silenced) lives with my stories. But it requires a hard heart, a coldness in me which I find repulsive sometimes. It shames me a little, and daunts me a lot.


Nik's Blog said...

You could always write about those things withour actually writing about those things. That's what I've (v rarely) done. You know, using the emotion and the feeling and experience, but channeling it into something else or, as you say, dressed-up.

I think that writing about loss and emotion is absolutely important. I also think that unless you're (or should that be 'one'?) writing a biographical piece, or hoping to offend, what you'll come up with won't be offensive at all. It might be upsetting, but if that's for the right reasons (ie because of the story you've written and connection you'll have made) then, mostly, I think that's a good thing.

Um, so that's what I think.

And I liked 'snappy as a handbag' - not heard that one before.


Anne Brooke said...

I agree with Nik - as always. And I like snappy as a handbag too. Though I must admit mine is zipped, so doesn't quite have that feel!


Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Nik. I've already worked out a way to write about the Japanese internment camp within the crime series I'm working on, so I'm thinking laterally as you suggest. I don't worry about offending people as such. The being heartless part isn't even a worry, really, so much as a paradox which fascinates (and, as I say) repulses me a little. That in order to write about things which matter hugely - not just to me but to human beings in general - I have to harden my defences against feeling too much of what I want and hope others will feel. I'm not sure that makes any sense at all, except to me. Another paradox: my utter inability to articulate myself when talking about what I do, which is all about being articulate.

And yes! A handbag. That's one I made up for a story ages ago and still like. Glad you do too.

Sarah Hilary said...

Zippy as a handbag, Anne? I like that too!

Nik's Blog said...

That makes total sense, Sarah. And I agree.

Good luck with it!


Tania Hershman said...

that sounds like an incredible experience to have undergone, both to have lived with parents, and grandparents, who had been through such trauma (over here in Israel, where many many people are Holocaust survivors or their descendants, there is a syndrome named after the children of survivors, it is something that reverbates down the generations) and to have had such loss yourself in one go. As Nik says, I am sure it will - and already does- come out in your writing, perhaps not directly. I wouldn't worry about the reader at all, I have never been concerned about provoking pain, I upset myself constantly with what I write, probably far more than a reader would be because I know so much more than what goes down on the page, so I would concern yourself more with making sure you take care of yourself while you are writing about these subjects. I am writing about the pain and loss of fictional characters, and of course some of my own experiences feed into it but never directly, I've never written about something that has actually happened to me. I think perhaps when you do, you won't know how a reader will respond, because you are so thickly inside it. You just need, as you say, to write the most truthful and meaningful stories that are inside you. And you do.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Tania, you always talk such sense. It's true that in worrying about how others might/would react or respond to what I write I often forget about what it means and/or does to me while writing it. Here's hoping we both have a good writing day.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Nik!