Recently, I’ve been getting down seriously to the next book.
Having spent months going through the refining process for Eden’s Garden, it’s quite a strange experience going back to first draft and getting to know a new set of characters. Of course, most of them have by now decided to go off and be somebody else entirely, leaving the author stumbling along after them, desperately attempting to maintain some semblance of discipline. On the other hand, the thrill of excitement as a new story (fingers crossed) starts to take shape is the best buzz out there.
Okay, I’m going to have to admit this: I can now spot when I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. My writing goes into long-winded, pompous mode. Kind of like Dickens, but without the Dickens, if you see what I mean. (Deep blush)
So thank goodness for the day job. Filling in funding application forms certainly helps to focus the mind on convincing an audience without deviation, repetition, or general waffle, bombast or flummery. But over the past few months, I’ve also had the privilege of helping with some of the oral history projects I’ve been raising money for.
I’d forgotten quite how much I love helping with the oral history. And how much it can teach you about writing from the heart. This time, we were given the original diary of a local man who had fought in the First World War. This was something not written for publication, nor has it even been published. I think the time it really struck us, was when we recorded it as part of a contribution for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind.
The diary was written as it happened. So the first part is a young lad leaving home, going on a big adventure, with the details of the train journey and the new experiences. Then the training, and finally the journey to France, where nothing happens much at first. Then grenades begin to fall. Then come the shells and the snipers. This isn’t a famous battle, just a skirmish on the outskirts. There are no great details, but you can see so much behind the restrained words.
It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read, because it is real. Because it is authentic. It’s not someone being literary or clever, but a human being trying to make sense of being thrust into the truly unimaginable. The language is simple, but to me it still has the same power held in poets like Wilfred Owen. Words stripped down, so that the truth and the humanity comes shining through, alongside the horror.
And yes, that is what I love about Maeve Binchy’s novels. Not that she is writing about war. But, like Jane Austen, her subject is the human heart, in all its strength, its vanity, and its frailty. And those, in the end, are both the journey to war, and to the rage against war’s senseless cruelty: both the worst and the best at the heart of all of us.
So this morning I am returning to the Work in Progress determined to ditch the flummery (or B***S**, whichever you prefer) and simply write from the heart.
Which, in the enviable comfort of not being in the middle of a war – surrounded by horrors and in fear for your life – is strangely enough one of the hardest things to do. Well, for me, anyhow.
Deep breath, sleeves up, my First World War soldier and a copy of ‘The Copper Beech’ at my side – here goes!
To be continued …. (I hope )