A two-day workshop in Cornwall last week for a group of 16 people. It was described by one of them as a two-day mind gym. It’s always amazing that strangers can come together and get to know each other so well and so quickly through words and stories. The stories are individual. But they work because the emotions that connect us to them are universal.
The writers support each other because they don’t corner themselves into a specific kind of writing, a narrow interpretation of purpose. It’s always best to avoid the divisions that come with a narrow focus on a particular tribal genre. The most fractious time I ever spent with writers was when I was on the board of the Poetry Society, where poets seemed to relish divisions between different kinds of poets and forms of poetry. The narrower the tribe the more fractious the groups within it and the more intolerant of other views
Thinking back to my own childhood I grew up in a family that believed in the need for unions – trade unions. We would know the words of the Internationale before any flagwaving nationalistic anthems. That’s my legacy and I still adhere to the value of finding common ground at the highest level. I really would flee the country if the UK Independence Party came to power; I would need to take my last refuge from the scoundrels of nationalism.
I’ve stated before that my favourite quotation is EM Forster’s “Only connect”. Last year for 26 Words I wrote “Everything is connected”. John Donne’s “No man is an island” is one of the most beautiful pieces of English prose. Writers are cast as solitary people but they seldom are in my experience, they know the bonds between each of us. Good writing aims to include not exclude.
I believe writers should do all they can to make connections. Between one word and another, one thought and another, between one writer and one reader at a time. As Jamie Jauncey and I explored in our book Room 121.
Jamie and I cannot agree on one thing at the moment. Jamie is all for Yes and Scottish independence; and I don’t get a vote in it. It’s a vote that will make a bigger difference to my state of being and personal identity than any other in my lifetime but I won’t get the chance to cast my own vote No. I am always positive not negative by inclination so I find it strange to be cast onto the negative side of an argument. But I feel positive about my preference for union not division, connection not separation, interdependence not independence.
Next week Jamie and I will remain good friends as we run the next Dark Angels course in Andalucia. The connections remain strong. I’ll leave you with one, the words of John Donne, written nearly 400 years ago:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.