Another early start this morning, and I added another 1000 words or so to the radio play, but I can’t exactly claim to have written 1000 more words. I got some help. From my great great great grandfather.
No, don’t go calling the Guinness World Records people, or the National Enquirer if you’re on that side of the pond; he’s not 220 years old, but his letters to my great great great grandmother are nearly 200 years old, and they’re amazing! (Her letters back are pretty amazing, too – spelled phonetically, but with a thick Scottish accent, which makes them somewhat tricky to decipher in places!)
Robert Pollock (for that was his name) was a blacksmith who left his wife and young children to find work in London, and wrote long, loving letters home about his experiences. He originally intended to come down for a short time, earn lots of money, then return, but it seems he fell on his feet landing a job helping to build St Katharine’s Docks (just behind where the Queen disembarked from her Royal barge during last weekend’s flotilla). With steady work in London and an uncertain job market in Dundee, he decided to stay ‘down south’ and brought his family down to live with him. Good for them, not so great for the family historians who lose all the fascinating detail of our ancestors’ daily lives from then on, but hey, we’re grateful for what we’ve got.
I’m fascinated by imagining the London that he saw. He was here before Trafalgar Square, before Big Ben, before Buckingham Palace (it existed, but was smaller and just a stately home, not the residence of the monarch), before, amazingly, Tower Bridge!
I wonder, too, what he would make of the lives of his descendants and this, in a way, is what sparked the idea of the play. I have imagined that, being surrounded by boats and shipping so much, perhaps he had a yearning to travel and see the world. Instead, he ended up dying in the Workhouse (the same one Dickens’ father had been incarcerated in when Dickens was a boy, though I don’t suppose the illustrious connection was any comfort to Robert!).
200 years on, several members of my family have now travelled the world – myself included. The play takes an imagined one of them – a reluctant little boy, afraid of leaving his home – and looks at how seeing himself as part of a wider narrative helps to put the fear into perspective.
Because I don’t just want to write great stories, I want to write things that matter, things that touch lives and maybe, just maybe, help give someone a new way to think about what they’re going through, what they’re seeing in the news, the assumptions they hold about the world.
Jeff’s challenge today was to write something you wouldn’t normally, or somewhere you wouldn’t normally, Practice in Public, he calls it. Well, this blog is really my something different – I don’t normally write about my writing (or diary-style blogs of any sort), because I don’t think they matter – and if I don’t who on earth else will? But I’ve had more ‘likes’ on these 3 or 4 posts than on everything I’ve written on my ‘real’ blog or the articles I’ve written in other places in the last 3 or 4 years.
That’s to do with the community, and to do with the particular challenge. We all want to help each other out, so we’re visiting strangers’ blogs and saying ‘hi’ (Thanks everyone who’s come to say ‘hi’ – I appreciate it very much!). But I think it must be a little to do with content, too – I’m being real here, sharing my heart, sharing more of me than you get in my normal posts. That’s a tough one to weigh, because I don’t want to be all about me just for the joy of seeing my hit counter rise, but as Jeff points out in one of the articles he linked to “Relationship and conversation are more important than good ideas and great writing. At least, at first.”
So for 15 days I’m writing what I care about, what I’ve procrastinated getting started on for so long, and I’m writing about writing and getting to know people, and stumbling upon some of their great writing (like this, from Christine – a Bible story about zombies which I unexpectedly loved).
I’ll share the play – or at least some of it – when it’s ready, but in the mean time, if you want a sneak-peek at what my fiction writing is like, check this out.