Saturday, 21 August 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Elen Caldecott

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.

For those who like to see a good quote in situ:




www.elencaldecott.com
Elen's Facebook Page

13 comments:

catdownunder said...

Oh...recycling is good - especially recycling a hug!

fanfan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nicky said...

Yep that bit of the Railways Children still does it for me!

Kate Collings said...

I think we all recycle ideas everyday but it's how we change them to make them our own that counts.

As well being a stay at home mum, writer and student (mature student that is), I have set up a tots group. At Wiggle Tots I 'borrow' songs, tunes and dance moves but I adapt them to make them our own and the children love them. They can relate to the themes whether it be the words or tunes etc.

So perhaps thats why alot of people recycle characteristics from elsewhere, so that we as readers can relate to them?

Take Care
Kate Collings
xx

www.katecollings.blogspot.com

Savita Kalhan said...

Elen, I've watched that film a thousand times and, yes, it still does it for me!
By the way, Delia has a great recipe for bramble jelly (my family don't like the seeds). I use it every year and it actually lasts for a few months when kept in the fridge. I don't throw away the stuff that doesn't make it through the sieve - it gets jarred up for those who don't mind a few seeds!

Charlie Butler said...

Is that Arnos Vale?

When I first moved to Bristol, the buses carried the slogan "Round here we drink Bristol water", which made me wonder what they wrote on the buses in Bath...

I was thinking of that Railway Children clip the other day, in the context of what seems to be a whole Youtube genre of "Daddy's Back from Iraq" videos, such as this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSMlIM9zLio.

Whatever you think about the war, I defy you to watch the first example (from 10 seconds to 30 seconds in) without tearing up. Even Jenny Agutter couldn't match it.

Katherine Langrish said...

"Slingbacks and arrows" - love it!

adele said...

Very interesting post, Elen and I love the clip of course. Hope you enjoy Dido! I love "borrowing" as you can probably tell.

Jan Markley said...

I recycled an incident from my youth when I accidently killed my friend's frog, which became the jumping off point for my debut novel Dead Frog on the Porch.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I loved Michael Cunningham's recycling of Mrs Dalloway in The Hours... a real homage to Virginia Woolf

Elaine AM Smith said...

On the subject of recycling, I love the idea that every drop of water you drink has been through every kind of dinosaur too!

Andrew Strong said...

Beautiful post. The artist and writer Tom Phillips created "The Library at Elsinore" to show just how many book titles recycle Hamlet. And he missed "Infinite Jest"! It's here: http://tomphillipsinfo.blogspot.com/2007/05/library-at-elsinore-ii.html

madwippitt said...

I'd rather drink bathwater than Bath water - it tastes disgusting should anyone want to know. Even my dogs won't drink it, I have to add tasty stuff to it for the first day until they overcome their revulsion ...
And that clip never fails to make me cry - although only since losing my own Dad ...