Bit of a delay since the last Blog due to a lack of internet connectivity in South Dakota. Most motels say they have Wi-Fi but what they don’t tell you is that some of them can only achieve a signal if you sit on top of the chimney at 3 in the morning.
Frustrated by the inability to go on-line I began thinking back to my last piece about storytelling. When we talk about stories we tend to think “fiction” but in fact many of the best stories are true. In our own list the story of Mary Kingsley paddling her canoe up the rivers of West Africa in the 1890s, biffing intrusive crocodiles and berating French customs officials is more compelling than many fictional stories. Similarly the letters of Tony Rawson writing home to his mother in Watford while serving in the British army in Iraq in the 1940s are more real than anything about that time written in retrospect.
When the story concerns real people you know that what you are reading – or listening to – is but a section of their life. A snapshot of a particular moment or period. Ideally, this should also be the case with fiction. As Femi Euba, the Nigerian writer says, “Your listener or reader must believe that the characters in your play or story had a life before the story started and will continue to have a life after the story has finished”.
A week ago we crossed the Mississippi river from Illinois to Iowa. It’s one hell of a river, very wide at this point and yet still 750 miles from the ocean. It seemed a good parallel with story writing. The Mississippi flows on for ever. We arrive at a specific point, follow it for a while and then leave. We see a small part of the river, never the whole and that part is our story. Even if we were to return to the same place the river would be different. It’s a real skill to create a piece of writing that acknowledges the before and after as well as the piece we actually see.
And so the journey goes on. Since I last wrote we have passed through Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and crossed the Badlands of South Dakota. If you’ve seen the Badlands then you don’t need me to tell you what they are like. If you haven’t, then there are no words to describe them. They are simply another world.
Tonight we are in Sundance, Wyoming, an empty land where there seems to be unlimited space – the blank page that every writer is faced with, if we want to continue the metaphor. Perhaps it’s getting a bit stretched.
Time for bed, said Zebedee.