Splinter of Ice, by Ben Jeapes

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
I don’t know about you, but my splinter of ice has never been more icy or splintery. I try not to feel guilty about it.

If you’re missing the allusion, it’s to the splinter of ice that Graham Greene said lurks in the heart of every writer: no matter how terrible the tragedy, there is a small part of you tucking it all away for future use: the thoughts, the emotions, the feelings.

He came to this realisation when he was in hospital. He was an adult, but elsewhere in the ward a young child died suddenly. The family came to grieve and mourn. He wrote: “I watched and listened. There was something which one day I might need: the woman speaking, uttering the banalities she must have remembered from some woman’s magazine, a genuine grief that could communicate only in clichés.”

And here we are in the grip of a global pandemic …

I don’t for one second discount the tragedy that is going on all around us. Lives lost, hopes and dreams ruined. I’m fortunate enough to be relatively unaffected. I know others are not nearly so fortunate. That just helps me be more dispassionate. There is so much going on to take in that I am sure it will be popping up in my writing - and very likely yours, and that of many other writers - for years to come. Frankly, we’ll be failing as writers if it doesn’t. In Revelation 1.19 – admittedly, in a slightly different context but whatever – Jesus tells John to “write ... what you have seen”. I believe he gives us the same instruction.

Maybe it sounds harsh, but Jesus would not have been able to deliver his parables, with their searing insights into human motivations and feelings, without understanding the world and people very, very well - and he did that through observing us for 30 years. I once heard a Christian speaker wonder whether the Incarnation would have happened without the Fall? I think it would have (though your opinion may vary). It had to happen as a result of the Fall so that all who believe in him should not die and all that, but even without the Fall I think God would have wanted to see things as we see them, feel as we feel, understand as we understand … and hence become one of us.

Of course, one thing Jesus was not was dispassionate. He invariably shared in the pain and grief of others. He famously wept for Lazarus despite already being resolved to return him to life. Maybe that’s the secret of being a Christian writer. Passion and dispassion combined so that you’re never sure where one ends and the other begins. A continuum of passion/dispassion. We worship a god who is three in one. It shouldn’t be hard!

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. www.benjeapes.com


  1. Thanks for this, Ben: a good insight into the nature of the 'splinter of ice' - a publisher has to retain a similar objectivity, to do the job well. I enjoyed the article you referenced in Prospect magazine: a very balanced and well-informed piece.

  2. I love that Graham Greene quotation - I hadn't heard it before, but it says perfectly how it is to be a writer. Thank you.

  3. A good thoughtful piece. This objectivity can lead into truly 'going deep'. Many will rush to put their thoughts out, (and risk ending up with cliche) but the thoughts which are gathered and garnered will help our writing to mature and will become applicable and teach us ways of being and seeing and doing, which will fit into other areas of our writing, and inform our inner and outer lives. Thank you!

  4. I'd never heard this phrase before, Ben. I have been worrying of late that a little dispassionate voice has taken up residence in my virtual writing studio, but if it's a normal writerly phenomenon I don't feel so bad. Interesting, isn't it, that we can care so deeply while observing at the same time.


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