Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Our Memories Are Valuable Resources for Historical Fiction Writers

I was writing this as Florida was being ravaged by Hurricane Irma.  Irma has torn through Naples, a beautiful seaside resort, with a wide, sandy beach, lined with old fashioned clinker-built houses, with raised verandas, seemingly straight out of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (although, I know, TKAM is set in Alabama, which has also been hit).  I visited Naples in 2008.  It’s surged through Sarasota, converting streets into rivers.  In 2008, we shared a house in Sarasota in 2008, with our wonderful friends, Alan and Sheila, who are (thank God) safe and in north London.  I remember sitting outside with them, in late October, at a cafe in Sarasota, at peace and relaxed, drinking gallons and gallons of black coffee from a metal jug.  But, this last Monday, my Facebook writer friend, Yvette, posted this - from one of the wealthier areas of the United States: 

Advice to Those Affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida

I feel as if I've been through this emotional process all before, a few weeks ago, when Hurricane Neville swept through Texas. In 2011, we stayed in Houston with our friends Bruce and Charlsie.  Sadly, Charlsie has since passed away.  A fortnight ago I was following the Facebook feed of their daughter, Jordan; she recounted  water sweeping up their road in Houston, up the sidewalk, creeping up the garden... but never inside house. I noted the many prayers, and appeals for prayers, and the urgent calls for anyone who has a boat to come and help. Is it coincidence that the film 'Dunkirk' has just been released? Amazingly Jordan found time to respond to our many (well-meant but probably irksome) emails, assuring us that THIS IS TEXAS. WE LOOK AFTER OUR OWN. And then she went on to tell us about some football star who had raised several million dollars in hours. Hold those thoughts.

On the day of the Referendum in June 2016, my husband tried to ring the Election Office to say that we might not make it to the polling station (where we were both supposed to be working as poll staff) as our road, which had been a raging torrent the previous day, was still several inches deep.  He got no reply as - guess what? - the Election Office was also flooded.  (We did get to the polling station btw.)  This was not the first time our road in rural Essex had flooded.  Two decades ago, neighbours, with whom we had had any contact for years, knocked on our door, walked straight into our garage and (as I was alone in the house) moved our mower on to wood blocks so it didn't get waterlogged.  I then made my way up our road and, seeing flood water pour into other houses, offered to put anyone up who needed it.  Another neighbour, remembering that we used to offer bed and breakfast, sniggered and asked me how much I would charge.  I walked away feeling very hurt.  Hold these thoughts also!

We've also known hurricanes. Remember 1987?  We lived in Surrey back then.  We went to bed that night, thinking it was a bit windy.  In the small hours, I looked down our garden, to the two stout (and I mean really stout, with trunks as thick as a man) oak trees bending over like pipe straws.  Amazingly, they returned to their normal posture afterwards and, next day, I hung my washing on a line tied between them.  However, returning to the night… my husband realised that his car boot was open and saw his library of organ music (probably worth about £1000) blowing about in the 'breeze'.  He rushed outside in his pyjamas to rescue it, pinning down ancient, dog-eared pages with one hand as he attempted to pick up others.  He didn't lose any of it.  

The following morning, I got our daughter up as usual, dressed her in her uniform and drove her to school; she was one of only four children to arrive in her class. Many of the roads in Surrey were blocked by falling branches and whole spinneys and woods were flattened. Hold these thoughts also!
Why am I reminding you of all this?  We writers need our resources, especially those of us who write contemporary fiction and historical fiction. All of us need to hold on to our memories, not just what happened (which will get recorded in the history books and in Wikpedia), but what we were thinking and doing at the time.  If you can't use it in your writing, another writer will.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, in The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living on Essex/Suffolk border with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.  Rosemary apologises to any readers who have already read this post on her blog Write On, but she spent two hours composing a wonderful post on rejection, only to realise she had written on rejection last May.  Ho hum.

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