Allan Mayer’s Weblog

One Year of blogging (2)

Posted on: April 15, 2009

 

So what do you know?

They always say- write about what you know. Strange really when you apply that to some best selling fiction. Did Frank Herbert know about space travel and the politico-religious structures of far-flung empires when he wrote ‘Dune?’ Did Martin Amis live his life backwards, as in ‘Time’s Arrow,’ and is J.K. Rowling regularly seen running through a pillar on a railway station platform?
Of course not. J.K. worked out that she would save a fortune in reconstructive surgery by leaving that sort of stunt to the imagination.
Now of course imagination is essential to good writing, but is a work ever one hundred percent imagination?
According to J.K. Rowling, the character of Hermione was based upon herself at the age of eleven. In the upper sixth, she had a friend called Sean who drove a torquoise Ford Anglia. That is a fact, and not particularly impressive, but what if that car could fly…

There is a school of thought which says that all writing is autobiography. You probably couldn’t extend this to shopping lists, but I can see what they mean.
Look at a little baby- look how they take it all in, processing everything which comes to them through their senses. We are programmed to do that, although it doesn’t carry on at that rate (imagine your capacity for learning new languages if it did!)
What I am getting at is that for some reason we are a part of the universe which has been gifted or cursed with self awareness, and as such we are constantly processing information, trying to make sense of it either through science, through art, through music, maths or literature.

I spent much of my academic career trying to make sense of the Bible. Theology- another way in which we process ‘reality’ through interpreting what we know (Discuss!)
Somewhere back in the mid nineteen nineties I had just finished my Master of Philosophy thesis on ‘Who wrote the Gospel of John?’ After 60,000 words I had concluded that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that it was a waste of time, because it was now an educated ‘I don’t know,’ and I had a piece of paper to prove it.
But something was missing- big style.
I was no longer writing. The poetry I had once written and performed no longer seemed to satisfy. Seeing 60,000 words bound, with my name on the spine, feeling the weight of it in my hands, oooohhhh…. I knew that I had to write a novel.
Even as a child, this had been an ambition. At the age of thirteen I had tried to write a complex science fiction story, but had given up after several fase starts, realising that at that point I didn’t have the tools.
I left college in 1984, with a combined honours degree in English and divinity. Things had happened there which I thought would one be the makings of a good novel. But again, I wasn’t ready, so what will one day become my second novel, ‘Legion’s Daughter,’ was placed on the back burner.
The next ten years were taken up with making a career in the caring professions, and completing my M.Phil.
This brings me to where I started this post. It’s something like 1996, and I’m relaxing in a reclining chair on a visit to my brother-in-law’s house in Stafford. My mind is wandering to the idea of a novel, when the words come into my head: ‘Write about what you know.’
Well I didn’t think I could pull off a biblical epic. But what about a book in which people with severe learning disabilities are major characters?
In the mid eighties I had been involved in re-locating people from longstay ‘mental handicap’ hospitals. This was a world of which few people had first hand experience, and surely this quiet social revolution would provide a memorable backdrop for a unique story.
Thus ‘Tasting the Wind’ was conceived.

 

Originally published on ‘Blogger’ Thursday 24th April 2008

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