Tuesday 25 September 2018

Memory and Character, by Lynda Waterhouse

For complicated rota-wrangling reasons (all right, because of the rota-wrangler's inefficiency), there isn't a new post for today. So I thought I would take a look at the most popular posts from ABBA's history, and this, from 2012, is one of them. I've chosen it because it seems to me to get to the bedrock of what fiction writers do - making up characters. Enjoy, and thanks to Lynda Waterhouse. - Sue Purkiss

Last week I met up with an old friend. It had been at least fifteen years since we had last seen each other but soon we were talking endlessly about characters and writers that we loved such as Barbara Pym, Dorothy Whipple, Margery Sharp, Laurie Graham, Alexander Baron and David Mitchell. It was a real pleasure to talk about stories that I love and to give and to be given recommendations of what to read next. We talked about our own lives in between but fiction was the touchstone that set us alight. I left the café feeling elated by the conversation.  
I have always created imaginary characters. Night after night as a child I would take a battered tennis racket and ball out into the back alley under the pretext of playing out but really as I bounced the ball I was making up stories. Nowadays I stomp along the South Bank. Ideas come to me when I am moving about. My imagination likes to play games with me, letting me slog away fruitlessly for hours at a desk and then hurling an idea at me as I'm stepping on a train.

For my latest story, ‘Magic Moments and the Dull Bits in Between’, I found one of my characters reliving one of my childhood memories. I am a child of seven sitting in the empty room above my Aunty Lily’s baker’s shop. I am kneeling on the cold hard lino watching a group of sparrows eating breadcrumbs in the back yard. At the time I knew that I would never forget that moment. Virginia Woolf in ‘Moments of Being’ described it as follows:
‘We are the words; we are the music, we are the thing itself.’

The reality of being a writer trying to sell ideas and earn a living requires hard slog, a rhino hide and the crazy optimism that I always feel when I begin writing; the cockamamie belief that I can become an overnight sensation after years in the business.

Maybe the overnight success bit is a tad overoptimistic but my intention is always to create a bunch of characters and a story that will linger in a reader’s imagination long after they have finished the novel. I hope that my carefully chosen words and images will transfer to the reader’s imagination where they will settle into a satisfying memory. That by sharing my words I am sharing a bit of myself.

 I want my characters to be talked about between friends in a café. I want them to matter to people.

What do you want?


Penny Dolan said...

What a wonderful choice for this slot, Sue! Bringing some of wealth of ABBA posts into visibility again is such an excellent idea.

In response to Lynda's thoughtful post though:
There's often an odd moment when you suddenly remember quite where in your past some ideas may have come from, from the deep stuff through to the small almost un-noticed moments like the physical sensation of a particular floor surface or the way the light fell through the trees on a particular walk.

This is probably why any small criticism or rejection of a writer's writing can cut so irrationally deeply. They are there on the page, personally. (Or at least for some writers.)

Abbeybufo said...

How interesting to see 'From the City, From the Plough'! In my early days as a librarian - early seventies, when I'd just moved to Ringwood and didn't know the Hampshire stock as well as I would by the time I left 20 years later - a reader came in asking about this book. This was long before the days of computer catalogues, and I think even before microfiche, but I was eventually able to get a copy through for her.
She was thrilled, as she had gone to a meeting of the local Townswomen's Guild, where the theme was to dress up as a book. She had attended with a beefeater doll and a buttonhole of a few ears of wheat. She didn't win the prize, because no one knew the book, and she was desperate to be able to take it to the next meeting and prove that it existed. Of the many enquiries I had over my years in libraries, solving this was one of the most satisfying!

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks Sue for posting this, and thanks Linda for writing it! It's a strange impulse, writing fiction, making something that isn't real, real for somebody else. Love the rhino! A useful spirit beast in this business!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Thanks to Sue for re-posting this. I had forgotten all about it. It is a great idea to go into the ABBA back catalogue from time to time. Thanks Penny for your insight into why rejection can sting so much - I had never made that connection before. Glad my post and its illustrations has awakened so many memories.