I came across a short poem the other day by Warsan Shire, the Somali poet. Her words really touched me.
Later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Sad though that is, it has always been the case. Out of interest I ran down the list of the 20 audio book titles that Crimson Cats publishes and found that 7 out of 20 dealt with or included references to war. Some are obvious, Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, War Girls – the poems and prose written by women in the 1st World War. Some are less obvious, My Life and Times which includes Jerome K Jerome’s experiences as an ambulance driver with the French army in 1916, or Gods and Fighting Men – The Fianna – the legend of Finn McCool fighting to keep the foreigners out of Ireland.
7 out of 20, that’s a third of our titles. My first response was “Ouch” but then I started thinking about it. None of these, (except possibly the Nelson who has moved into the realm of legend) glorify war. They are more about individuals responding to difficult situations. In Private Rawson’s War, Tony Rawson who was conscripted into the army in 1942 found himself in the Middle East. He used the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the places where he was sent, he learned Arabic, he visited historical sites and wrote home about his experiences to his mother in Watford. We learn more about Tony from his letters than we do about the war and that is how it should be.
In the 1st World War Jerome K Jerome was considered too old to serve by the British so he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the French army and ended up at Verdun. The experiences of Brian Wright’s various Great-Grandads (with varying amounts of “great”) in My Grandads and Afghanistan bring all the Afghan wars Britain has been involved in down to the level of individual experiences.
And it’s individual experiences that make good story telling, whether it’s coping with huge disasters like a war or simply handling some level of personal problem. A good story needs a problem or a difficulty of some kind. If Cinderella’s step-mother had said: “Of course you can go to the ball, darling, I’ll lend you a dress” we wouldn’t have the famous fairy tale. If Goneril had gone to King Lear and said: “Father, Regan and I have been talking and we want Cordelia to have everything” then bang goes one of Shakespeare’s best plays. And if the opening line of Samuel Becket’s play had been: “Oh, hi, Godot, how you doing?” it would have been a very short evening in the theatre.
Stories need conflict or problems so we can explore how individual people deal with them. I don’t feel so badly about our 7 titles now.