Two of my favourite authors collided recently, in the Saturday Telegraph.
Sebastian Faulks gave his critique on the character of Mr. Darcy. It was in anticipation of the BBC2 series, Faulks on Fiction, beginning 5th February. I’ll certainly be tuning in to watch.
What caught my attention wasn’t the picture of the delectable Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in all his Regency wedding splendour, it was the comments Sebastian Faulks made about writing fiction. Apparently, when explaining to readers that he simply makes up his novels (after doing intensive research, of course) the reaction is incredulity, if not downright anger. He says, when doing a promotional tour for Birdsong, readers simply couldn’t believe the writer wasn’t a 105 year old French woman; in other words, they believed the novel was partly, or wholly biographical.
It made me recall an incident that happened during the last writing class I attended. If we had written anything during the week, we were encouraged to read it aloud. I’d written a very brief short story inspired by a visit to Harvington Hall, a rambling Elizabethan house with Catholic connections at a time when that was deadly. My heroine also visited the house and, when inspecting one of the many priests’ holes secreted in the place, was invited by a ghost-like figure to try it out. This she did but was trapped inside. The extended stay in the hidey-hole enabled her to think over the vacuity of her life, her depressed state and compare it to the fiery passionate faith that had led Nicholas Owen, the master carpenter who created the priests’ holes, to risk his life to do so. In fact, Nicholas Owen paid the ultimate penalty when he was starved out of one of his own hiding places and, after being tortured, was put to death.
Although the story was written in the first person, it still didn’t prepare me for the reaction of one of the listeners.
‘How had I coped with such black depression and despair?’ she asked. ‘Did I really feel such emptiness?’
Well, no I didn’t and wasn’t, at that time, at all depressed. My character was feeling this ennui. But my classmate wouldn’t have it. She insisted on lecturing me about self-help books and therapy sessions for the depressed. All very well meant of course but she’d totally missed the point. In a big way. She simply refused to believe I had made it all up.
It reminds me of another writer’s advice which I read recently. The wonderful Susan Hill says ignore the advice to write about what you know and write about what you don’t know. Use your imagination!
P.S. Good luck to Colin at the Oscars!