‘[The historical narrator] is often obliged, in order to make his name, to murder his forefathers by coming up with a different take on events from the one that held sway when he himself learned the discipline; he must make the old new.’ Hilary Mantel
I feel like a teacher now as I feel tempted to say: Discuss.
This quote was used by my publicist on the press release she sent me yesterday and it really got me thinking. I was very much aware that the story of Kennedy’s assassination is one that comes down through history, told countless times by those who remember and by those who came later. It has been the focus of books, TV documentaries, articles, TV films, shows and big screen movies — but what is it we’re still looking for?
Answers or new perspectives? Or as in the above ‘ a new take on things’ and I guess that’s where I come in with While No One Was Watching.
But was that my intention? To cast a new perspective on an old story?
In a way the answer is yes but that’s more what it became. My original intention was to tell a story about something that happened at the same time as a real life-stopping event. I never really intended to throw new light on an old story, but it seemed the more I became part of the lives of Gary Blanchet, Lydia Collins and Eleanor Boone, the more I connected to Kennedy and what really happened. And the more I felt I needed to wrap up the fictional characters I’d created in a blanket whose squares were scenes from real events — and real places where these events took place.
I am not a historical fiction writer, but I do love the way real events can come to life when shown through the eyes of a fictional narrator who was there. Standing right there –it takes the reader to a whole new place. I am not dismissing historical books, factual historical accounts, but for me standing on the grassy knoll, smelling the air, listening to the excited chatter of spectators, reaching for a child’s hand — and bang. Is is a firecracker? A car back-firing? Now the event, the place, the drama comes alive and that’s what I hope I managed to achieve in my novel. But the real story being played out is not the assassination but what’s happening to the characters.
I see my role of the writer here as being to defocus the reader from what’s happening in the foreground, and focus on what’s happening just off set. And that is what I see this novel as doing and what I always intended it to do — apart from this thing. And this thing is that we all want to know if there’s more to the story about what happened to Kennedy, lone assassin? Conspiracy? Big cover-up? Mafia? CIA?
And it seemed that even if unplanned, the novel was pulling me away from just the lives of Gary Blanchet, Lydia Collins and Eleanor Boone and forcing me to answer a bigger question. The question that burns at the heart of this book might well be: What happened to Eleanor Boone? But in seeking the answer to that, I needed to know what happened to Kennedy– who else knew what was going to happen and how does that relate to a little girl watching from the grassy knoll?
So as the picture slowly emerged, and I was compelled to look for missing pieces in the real historical puzzle, I had no choice but to create a different take on events.
So perhaps Hilary Mantel was right — we do need a new perspective, and perhaps this is what refreshes an old story by breathing new life into it. And just perhaps, by doing so, the fiction writers are writing a new truth.
And what fun that is.
Here’s the song again … please listen again!