I live near an urban cemetery that is a gothic mix of briars and brambles and burials. Just now, the brambles are coming into fruit.
I wondered if it’s OK to eat blackberries that grow on top of graves. It seems a bit macabre; puts me in mind of an Asian horror. I fretted about it for a while. Then I ate one. It was too sour, so the decision is postponed until next week.
I mentioned my cannibalistic concern on Facebook (as you do). Suddenly, everyone was telling me about their own people recycling experiences – damson jam in Highgate; cider from orchard-burials; Ellen Renner kindly pointed out to me that if I drank the water in Bristol, it would have been through countless bodies before mine (thanks, Ellen). It got me thinking about how much is recycled in our lives and, as creative people, how much we re-use what’s come before.
I’ve written an urban misery-fest that will hopefully come out next year. In it, a young girl is reunited with her father. I couldn’t resist giving her the line ‘Daddy, my daddy’ when she sees him. I expect you all recognise the quote. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat and I felt that my story is enriched by the borrowing. I love to stumble upon these recycled lines, phrases and images in other peoples work. Not only does it make me feel clever, because I recognise a bit of re-hashed King James when I see it, but also, it makes the writing we do now seem like part of a longer tradition. It gives literature a kind of stability. I especially enjoy it when I find it in unexpected places – I was reading a bit of chick lit the other day and the heroine moaned about a day being a suffering of ‘slingbacks and arrows’. Some novels borrow minor characters from other works and bring them to the forefront; I have Adele Geras' Dido on my to-read list for just that reason. It turns out – having read yesterday’s post – that Celia Rees has been busy recycling too. On a larger scale is the classic retelling, such as Mal Peet’s interpretation of Othello in ‘Exposure’.
Words, phrases, plots and blackberries all come around again to make our lives that bit richer. Do you have a favourite example of literary recycling? Or failing that, maybe a good bramble recipe in case I get over my squeamishness.
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