Friday, November 9, 2012
Genesis of a novel
People have been asking about the genesis of Maybe they’ll remember me, so I will say a few words here, without giving too much away.
I have been trying to write since at least my mid teens, when I used to compose dramatic poetry, oozing with existential teenage angst. A little later, perhaps in my late teens or early twenties, I tried my hand at fiction. These were usually clumsy attempts at science fiction, although there were a few more general pieces. I was never able to finish any of them. I continued to make attempts at various times throughout the years, but with much the same outcome. There were some recurring themes, and even some particular plot points, that resurfaced time and time again.
However, it was not until the beginning of this year that I finally made the breakthrough, and actually completed a novel. And what an experience it was! At first I had the same difficulties as always. I would write at a furious pace for a while, the words streaming from my fingers onto the screen, via the keyboard. But, as always, the well of ideas and words would run dry. This time, however, I did not give up. Strange things began to happen. Characters that I had considered to be marginal to the story began to assert themselves, and this took me, much to my own surprise, into the years preceding the story I had intended to write. By the time I had finished, there was practically nothing left of the original chapters, in the story I now had before me. It was entirely new, with fresh and unexpected stars. (Those original chapters do remain, though, and I may yet return to them to continue that other story.)
Two of the main characters of Maybe, Harold and Maggie are loosely, very loosely, based on my parents. That is to say, my father did serve on the Queen Mary during the Second World War, and my mother did work in a buttons factory in Birmingham. The family did migrate to Australia during the 1960s. But that is where the facts end and the fiction begins. Maggie and Harold took on lives of their own, and while, inevitably, they retain traces of their origins, they became completely different people. Indeed, there is as much of me in Harold as there is of my father – and many others too. People are very crowded on the inside. Kate, as far as I am aware, has no historical counterpart. (Although, Kate, if you are out there somewhere, give me a call.)
One of the great joys I had in writing this novel was immersing myself in the period. I listened to the music of the era, watched clips from movies, scoured the internet for pictures and stories from those times, devoured images of the fashions of the day. I tried to make the story as historically realistic as I could, within the context of fiction. I made sure, as far as possible, that the Queen Mary was where I said she was at a given time and place – to such an extent that I let this shape the story to some degree. If the characters saw a movie, listened to a song or entered a building, I made sure these things were possible at the time. The plays in which Kate appears were all on at the times and places in which I set them although, to the best of my knowledge, Kate did not appear in any of them. The explosion of the V2 is based on eye-witness accounts – it happened precisely when and where I said it did. Digging up these fragments of information was a great delight to me.
Since writing Maybe, I haven’t really looked back. There will, I promise, be more to come.
So there we are. A little background. I hope you have as much pleasure getting to know Harold, Maggie and Kate as I did.