My workshop has taught me the importance of support networks and the workshop on Saturday was great. Loved it. Tomorrow I will share photos and talk about what we did. Today I’d rather use my blog to create a pause from our everyday lives.
It’s hard to get away from the fact that one hundred years ago today saw the outbreak of World War One and with the current ongoing wars devastating us every time we turn on the news, it proves that humans are not so good at living in harmony.
Today might mean little to the youth of today, but thankfully history in schools will attempt to make sure it’s not forgotten. I remember the war poetry we read at school, some still resonates.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
© Wilfred Owen, borrowed from: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/anthem-for-doomed-youth/
I think the poets and the fiction writers can do something often the history books can’t. They bring it to life. They allow the reader to be there in the trenches, to smell the gas and the rot. They make real people out of names in a history book.
Morpurgo’s War Horse I think brought the horrors of the trenches to life in a far more vivid, albeit heart breaking, way than many historical texts might — showing the young reader the horrors in a way they’d understand. But this novel does not take sides — we are all human it says and we all grieve the same. So it’s not a war story for the warmongers — but one that says war hurts everyone. We are the same.
The blurred lines between fact and fiction is something I often discuss because, while I am not a historical novelist per se, I do use history and real events in my work and of course While No One Was Watching does just that.
At my workshop I talked about themes and the way the past shapes the present is one used a lot in fiction — or as I say the what if it had happened this way instead ideas. There are many of those been used in fiction — have you read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life? This is second world war but it cleverly does just that — resets and restarts when the narrator dies and we see what if explored in multiple lives. An interesting structure I recommend — take a close look.
I will be talking in Rochester Lit Festival on October 1st on this interplay of fact in fiction and fiction in fact. About our obligation to truth. There is a line of thought that says writers and movie makers make ‘entertainment’ out of historical disasters — the holocaust frequently cited. Someone even tweeted me last year and said did I enjoy making money out of the death of a president. I asked him to let me know when I do make some money and then pointed out he would need to read the novel to see how that is really not the case. And referred him to the Spielbergs and the Stones for starters on that one. If you define entertainment as laughter and frivolity, then something that made light of the mass death of millions of jews would indeed be wrong. But if entertainment is immersion, is being taken to another place and if being moved and learning is part of that, then I would say the fiction writers have an obligation to make sure the stories don’t die.
And perhaps fiction is the thing that helps keep it alive in a more vivid way?
You could teach that millions of horses died with the men in the trenches — words in a history book. Yes powerful, but name the horse and show its relationships, take the young reader to the trenches to see for themselves and it seems all the more real — doesn’t it?
The blurred lines between fact and fiction is a huge topic and one I look forward to examining at my talk — but since today is another significant anniversary, I thought it only fitting I ask you, wherever you’re reading this to pause for a moment and reflect.
Even if the lines are blurred, if we cry for the fictional characters in the pages of a great novel or on the silver screen, or for our great grandparents, the feeling is the same and we know that behind the fiction are real people. People who died.
Cue silent credits …
If you have someone you want here, be it a real person or a fictional character who died in World War One, message me and I will add it to the wall below …
I will start: Wilfred Owen 18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918