26 Fruits

 

Remember

Memory and imagination. I’ve always linked the two. In workshops one of my long-established exercises is ‘Mnemonic’, a prompt given to plunge people deep into childhood memories and to start writing. It helps you over that ‘I can’t write, I have no imagination’ barrier. Clearly, we all have memories.

In recent years I’ve been doing this more and more, consciously using memory to stimulate imagination, as a starting point for fiction. Spanish Crossings was triggered by remembering a family story that had been forgotten, then exploring it through research connections. Perhaps spurred by a childhood memory of seaside holidays, I think of this as paddling in the tide of family stories.

It’s not really about remembrance because, inevitably, you have to create a new story. But there is an element of remembrance – in the sense that we now attach it to the First World War – in the two writing projects that have had the most personal meaning to me over the last year.

The first is my next novel The Good Messenger that will be published in September. I became interested in the First World War, particularly in the social and political changes that happened between pre-war and post-war periods. So The Good Messenger is set either side of the war, in 1912 and 1927.

But, not wanting to write about the horrors of the war itself, I became interested in the Armistice that called a halt to the destruction and waste. What must it have been like to experience that day, November 11th 1918? What would have been your emotions as an individual still alive after four years of daily death and violence?

So I wrote a short central section of the novel as a chapter written by a young woman alive in London on that day. I imagined it almost as if Virginia Woolf had written Mrs Dalloway a few years earlier. I loved the research I had to do and the process of writing in such a different voice.

At around this time the first meetings were happening with Imperial War Museums about an Armistice centenary project with 26. In part my interest was reinforced by visiting my grandfather’s grave in Flanders on his centenary – he had been killed at Passcendaele in August 1917. Obviously I had no memory of my grandad but I remembered my grandmother who had been a significant figure in my childhood. She had raised her two babies – my mum and my aunt – in those post-war years. What had that been like for her? Particularly when the archive photo, taken before the war, showed such pride and hope in the family that was forming.

I’m thrilled that this was a path that led to the 26 Armistice project. Now 100 writers have each chosen a person from the First World War period, researched him or her, tapped into recorded or living memories, and written a centena. The centena, exactly 100 words, is a new form I created for this project. The first three words are repeated as the final three words. I hoped that, in that form, there might be an echo of the way memory can work, transformed into imagination.

The centenas will be posted daily from 5th August for the next 100 days on the IWM and 26 websites. Mine will be on 15th August, the day my grandad was killed. There will also be a book of the 100 centenas. We’re currently compiling it and raising the funds to produce it. It’s going to happen and you can support it here https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/100-centenas

Profits will go to the charity War Child. Even if we’ve raised the minimum total needed by the time you go there, you can still donate and receive a copy of the book.


One Response

  1. Paul Murphy says:

    John

    Have you read Wake by Anna Hope, a brilliant debut novel set just after WW1? I have also just read Warlight by Michael Ondaatje set in London during and after WW2 and focussing on the impact of war on a young boy.
    Good luck with the new novel, I will try and make it to the Bloomsbury Festival.

    Paul

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