Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Yorkshire puddings and historical fiction

There are certain things that I’d really like to be able to do. Certain things that I’m a more than a little bit in awe of. I’ve attempted to make Yorkshire puds on numerous occasions, and they’re, well, lets just say that they come out ok. They generally come out tasting like Yorkshire puddings and looking like, er, flat Yorkshire puddings. But they’re definitely recognisable as what they’re supposed to be, and not poisonous, which is always a good start when cooking. They don’t, however, come out anything like they do when my dad’s girlfriend makes them, even when I follow her instructions to the letter. Most of the time (I say most of the time because I think there was a fluke or two early doors which filled me with false confidence) they just don’t rise properly. I try not to let it get to me. It’s not the end of the world. I have, after all, mastered roast potatoes. I had a few soggy efforts at first but then I got there, and the boyf reached up and dusted off one of his best compliments, telling me “They’re just as good as ones you’d buy from the shop”. But roast potato making successes aside, there would still be something very satisfying about making decent Yorkshires.

Aside from Yorkshire puddings I would really, really like to be able to write realistic historical fiction. This is not at all like making Yorkshire puddings because this is something I have never even attempted. Now, I’m not saying that I want to realistically and evocatively bring to life the tempestuous relationships of Jacobean sheep farmers. What I’m saying is that I find it hard enough to write convincingly in the real world, in the here and now where I live my life, every day, and have quite a lot of experience of. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to write (and write well) when your characters are slap bang in the middle of a different time period. Its about evoking a sense of place. The reason that this is in my head today is because as an exercise in last weeks writing class we had to make lists, some of them were boring (things that I like to read about, things that interest me) but one really struck a chord. Times that interest me. My list was World War Two, Pioneer America and my 1980s childhood.

So our homework was to find a topic (from one of the many lists) that interests me, devise an idea for a character, consider what they most want, make a list of obstacles, pick one scenario and write about it blah blah blah. We have to show the character in action not getting what they want and it should be about 300 words.

Now, I’m really struggling for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve never been much of a planner. I tend to write inside out and start with what I think is the beginning and an idea of where I think its going, only to realise that the beginning is not the beginning at all and where I thought it was going was a different direction than I’ve found myself now. After a bit, I plan if I need to and that’s when the lists start and the random notes and the hope that I can tie it together. Secondly, I find that if I just write, then sooner or later I will figure out the character and the obstacles and it will all sort itself out. It is very difficult to find out what a character wants before you’ve done the decent thing and written about them a little bit and started to get to know them.

So I think I am going to have to cheat, and do the homework backwards and wine and dine my character first before making a list of their deepest desires and the obstacles in their way, because its not very interesting the other way round. And although I would like my character to be a German Jew in post-war Britain, I have a feeling that she probably won’t be. Just because I’m not convinced I could ever write her, and (at this precise moment in time, when my writing is all about building my confidence back up and getting into good habits) I’m a bit too scared to try.

Anyway, I’m going to stop rambling (must go and finish my homework).

Before I go, I’m going to post a poem, where I do feel like I’ve captured time quite well. It was written as an exercise when I was at Uni and we all went to the National Portrait Gallery and were, quite simply, told to write poems of pictures that took our fancy. This one is written after seeing “Dancing Couple from Animal Locomotion” (1887) by Eadweard Muybridge. I googled him, he’s a bit mental

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge

and here are some examples of the kind of work he did (although not the actual picture the poem is based on, I can’t find that anywhere)

http://www.kingston.gov.uk/browse/leisure/museum/museum_exhibitions/muybridge/animal_locomotion/online_prints.htm

Ok, here we go…

Poem of a Picture

As my eyes move, I see the couple dance,
The same couple who,
From the other side of the room,
Seemed quite, quite still,
But now as I stand and watch them dance
I see her slow smile as she turns to the camera
I hear the swoosh of her long skirt moving behind her,
I feel the warmth of his arms around her,
And the shiver of excitement that runs up her spine
And the fantasies that race through his mind
And the quickening pulse and the shallow breath
As he tries, and fails, not to look at her breasts,
She sees but merely laughs and ignores it
Because deep down inside she really adores it
Their bodies in tune, twirling the dance,
A soft, low moan, a furtive glance,
Her heart races, anticipates the thrill
But then I look away and they are still.

1 comment:

Stephanie_C said...

awesome poem! and I'm sure someone who can write such poetry will master both Yorkshire puds and historical fiction. It's just a matter of time...