Started the fiction module led by a short story writer with a very writerly name. There was an almost instant ulrika moment. When I redrafted my life writing piece from first to third person I was annoyed at myself because of all the: 'she recalled's and 'she remembered's, I managed to splatter around the text. Well. Transpires I was needlessly filtering the images through the observing consciousness, as in: “she had imagined that he was ancient”, when “he seemed ancient” presents the thing seen and removes the filter between the character and reader; I’m glad I know that now.
We were cautioned to avoid abstraction and generalisation and to include specific detail to increase credibility – in yesterday’s Guardian Review John Mullan writes: “such details are there to win the reader’s confidence”. When I was thinking about my poetry portfolio commentary I remembered how much I liked the precise geological and medical references in Robert Browning’s poetry.
We wrote a bit of credible detail so that we could introduce an impossible thing, for example a talking dog, and make it seem plausible.
Then we chose a photograph each and started to construct a character for our photo-person. What was remarkable how proprietorial people became about their characters immediately. And how much detail they could instantly produce about someone that doesn't really exist; surgical procedures, dodgy spouses, all kinds of stuff. My photo is a lady who looks like what I’d look like if I wasn’t on a perma-diet and I still smoked and drank to incontinent excess. The photograph was taken in a 1950s-looking front parlour; she is staring straight at the camera and has a broad, fleshy face and a serious gaze. She has curlers in her hair above her forehead but not the hair at the sides. I think she’s clever but has never had the opportunity to develop her intelligence. She’s a hospital cleaner called Betty. I recounted how Betty refused to shake the hand of Princess Diana when she visited the hospital she cleans at because she was appalled that the mother to the heir to the throne had just been on her third skiing holiday of that year and children were sleeping rough on the streets. The story is true, my mother in law did and said just that when she was the Lady Provost of Dundee.
Now my photo-lady, Betty, is going to feature in a short story if I can make one up, I think she might have been a prostitute in her teens and twenties.
Over time my sentences have shrunk because I want to avoid ambiguity. I’ve noticed that when doing the artist’s sketchbook field work exercise - recording still life and movement I am going to have to come to terms with longer sentence structure again – like the long messy sentences in the Stylistics coursebook.
Most of the children were home over Christmas and I was reminded about remembering rememberings and Jenny Diski and the Australian greenstone leilira blades; (the blades are produced in a sequence of ceremonial steps and exchanged with distant groups but never used or curated. Robert Paton believes the blades aren’t utilitarian items at all but are the vehicle of information transmission. At each ritualised stage of their production and circulation the Aboriginals involved get stories straight). Over Christmas my daughters rehearsed childhood accounts: Convincing the youngest that the plug-end of the communal bath was the pole position and the competitions to see who could get a sodden flannel from the bath into the loo. The stories have their own energy now and the retelling and reordering of them is more animated if there is an audience.
When made the final redraft of the Funeral for my life writing portfolio I misremembered the chronology of some relatively recent events. It was only when I reread an earlier commentary that I realised that I had been dishonest. I though I was becoming much more cavalier about the permeable borders between fact and fiction; but it transpires I’ve always been that way.
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