Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Battles, kings and elephants. Cindy Jefferies





One thing you can depend on for a writer is that if you ask them what they're thinking , whatever they reply you can be pretty certain that at least a part of their mind is thinking about a story. It might be no more than a slight itch at the back of the mind, but it'll be there.

So, being a writer, it is hardly surprising that when I was in Paris in the Spring stories were taking up a corner of my mind. After all, even a desert can be fertile ground for a story, which makes ideas for fiction seep out at every turn in Paris.

Fortunately, the friend I was staying with understood, and on the last day of my trip came up with something for me to take home. It was a quote in the frontispiece of a novel by Mathias Enard called Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'elephants.

Puisque ce sont des enfants, parle-leur de batailles et de rois, de chevaux, de diables, d'elephants et d'anges, mais n'omets pas de leur parler d'amour et de choses semblables.

Here's a translation:- Because they are children, tell them about battles and kings, horses, devils, elephants and angels, but don't neglect to tell them about love and things like that.

Not being able to find an attribution I assumed the author must be Mathias Enard, but I wished that I knew for sure.

I loved the quote. It seemed to sum up exactly what I thought was important. Yes, of course a fast moving plot is paramount, especially in the sort of fiction for the 8-12's that I usually write. But, and I think this is particularly important for boys; love, and things like that is also vital. Girls tend to be better at talking about feelings, while some boys, I think, can find it harder. Of course, both boys and girls can feel pretty lonely at times, when what they're feeling is muddled and difficult. I believe that one of the best ways of understanding that you're not alone in your feelings is through a good story. So the quote resonated with me, whoever had written it. But the story doesn't end here.

Some while later, a review from an American newspaper fell into my inbox. It was a glowing review of a new novel that had been in the final selection for the Prix Goncourt in France. It was being translated, and would soon be available in America. To my delight the book was the very one that had contained my favourite quote, and at last I found out what I wanted to know.

The reviewer wrote that the quote came from one of my own countrymen, Rudyard Kipling, in a collection of stories published in 1915 called Life's Handicaps. It's a little known collection, but I tracked it down, and found those wise words in the preface of that book, which takes the form of a discussion between two storytellers, one an elderly Indian who speaks his stories, and the other an Englishman, who, like Kipling writes with pen and ink. The discussion is about the art of storytelling, and the wise words come from Gobind, the holy, one eyed Indian.

And so, the quest for an author led me on a long journey, from England to Paris and back again, and across the Atlantic, with a nod to India, only to find that in true and pleasing storybook form, the answer lay in my own land.

I'd love to hear about your favourite quotes, and why they are special to you. I have mine pinned up by my desk, and my eyes are drawn to it often, as I ponder the twists and turns of the story I am conjuring from behind my eyes. And I will try never to forget to include at least something about love, and things like that.


14 comments:

adele said...

An ace post! And I think you deserve a gold star for all the super illlustrations, so well disposed about the text. RESPECT!

Joan Lennon said...

The unexamined life is not worth living. I inherited it from my dad, along with stubby fingers.

Wendy Meddour said...

What a lovely, thought-provoking post! Must go and ponder on favourite quotes ...

Wendy Meddour said...

.... whilst emptying the dishwasher:(

Rachael Kelly said...

"She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world."
– Kate Chopin, The Awakening

...and, on a lighter note ....
Don't get flustered, just throw custard...Society of Custard Wrestlers

Cindy Jefferies said...

Thanks for the kind comments folks, and interesting quotes! Glad you liked the pictures Adele. The Indian ones are from a C13th palace in Rajasthan.

Leila Rasheed said...

What a great quote. One of my favourites, and one I try to write by, is: 'The man who never made a mistake never made anything'.

catdownunder said...

"When you are alone the whole world belongs to you" (Leonardo da Vinci)
"Your position does not give you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can take your orders without being humiliated by them" (Dag Hammarskjold)
Really enjoyed reading your post.

Joan Lennon said...

Oh Catdownunder - I'd completely forgotten Dag Hammarskjold - an astonishing man - many thanks for reminding me!

Leslie Wilson said...

If you can look on triumph and disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same.
Kipling, again, and such good advice for writers, I think!!

Elen C said...

The actual text is very long and not really quotable, but George Eliott wrote something like:
To each of us our life is like a candle placed on a metal surface - all the random scratches seem to form concentric circles around ourselves.
I think that is what a story does, takes the randomness of life and uses it to form a pattern around our characters.

Penny Dolan said...

A lovely journey in both place and words, Cindy!

Chris said...

Nikita Khruschev said (or wrote), 'Life is short; live it up!'.

It seems to me that he has a good point, but that there is much more to life than just enjoying it. Every life is a story but the most inspiring are those that care about and engage others. 'Love and things like that' are important!

Great blog post, Cindy; you certainly seem to have engaged quite a few others :-)

Cindy Jefferies said...

Thanks for all your fascinating quotes. Lots to think about here. I expect I shall be pondering for quite a while!