On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

One Pair of Hands

Long break in the blog for Christmas and a touch of enforced reclining on sofa rewriting latest novel (sequel to The Crimson Rooms), and reading a biography of Hemingway (thought I wouldn't get far with it until I find in first chapter that he and Frank Lloyd Wright were connected - I think the whole book is going to be about connections with iconic names of 20th century), Hilary Mantel (of course), Julian Barnes short stories and a reread, for comfort, mostly of two books I used to read on a loop when I was about twelve, Monica Dickens' One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet.

I was interested to see if they'd still engage me, and even more fascinated to try and work out what it was that had so engrossed me as a child.  They are both autobiographical.  In the first Dickens (a direct descendant of Charles Dickens and therefore well-heeled) signs up as a young woman to a domestic agency and takes a number of jobs as a cook or maid.  In the second she begins training as a nurse at the start of the Second World War.  They are witty, deeply human - Dickens has a wry turn of phrase - self-deprecating and excellent exercises in character studies.  They are also historically fascinating as they probe the social divisions between the wars, and what it was like to work in a hierarchical medical setting.  I think I was also attracted to the fact that Dickens was depicting very confined, but intense environments.  They are, of course, the precursor, to the likes of Downton, and every hospital drama series.

As an embryonic writer, I suspect they had a profound effect on me.  That business of stepping back from intense personal experience, and writing about it; the seeking a story or drama from the seemingly mundane interactions of daily life and above all the closeness of the observation were all lessons which I didn't know I was learning.

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