After our “road trip” odyssey, we’re settled in here for the week in Fernandina Beach. My Dad had been to Florida only once before, back in 1985, to settle my late grandmother’s estate (after she had died in Hudson, near Tampa). Now here for our holiday, he is thoroughly enjoying himself – which was our goal after he nearly died of heart failure back in August.
One of my now bigger regrets – one never to be remedied – is when our friend Kam (the London-born and raised daughter of Sikh immigrants to the U.K., and who died suddenly at age 45 in February 2014) remarked a year or so before her death that she had wanted to visit India with us.
My Dad having now fully recovered from his heart failure back in August, and the implant surgery in December, we felt that after the tough, cold winter he and my Mum had spent in Pennsylvania, that they needed a holiday.
I hadn’t “planned” it this way, but as I began to write Passports, I found myself drawn to exploring those who don’t really have “intimate” sibling relationships. My younger main characters tend to be “only children,” have much older siblings, or are essentially estranged from them. In many ways, their friends come to serve as “replacement” brothers and sisters.
There’s one notable exception: the Khoury sisters. In their mid-late 20s, both Valérie and Juliette still live at home with their French mother and Lebanese-French father. Valérie is the older by about two years. Extremely close, they even holiday together without their parents.
Most weekends I don’t do much original writing. I try to confine it to the “work week.” Weekends I usually aim to take a break (aside from my journal here).
In recent weeks, though, I’ve felt I’ve been on something of “hot streak.” Yesterday, an idea for a small plot twist struck me too. Fearing I’d lose some of it in my head by Monday, I wanted to get it into the manuscript, so I spent some time working in the morning and it was time well spent.
Afterwards, I thought again about how the characters have come to mean a lot to me. True, we have all been grabbed by “people” we’ve gotten “to know” in novels. But how about when they are swirling around in your head uncountable hours each and every day for years because you are writing them and thus creating their very existences?
I’ve had various jobs over the years in academia and in business. I’ve never been especially “fragile.” I’ve always been confident about my skills and what I bring to the table.
But throw that out the window the instant you take up something creative, such as fiction writing. No matter what you’ve done before, what degrees you have, and what you may have accomplished in other life realms, suddenly you’re returned to about age 14. Others’ approval matters to you a lot more.
Black British screenwriter and director Amma Asante jumped in on CNN yesterday in defense of actor Benedict Cumberbatch. He’d used the word “colo(u)red” on a U.S. TV talk show. She feels the anger directed at him for saying it is missing the point:
Opinion: Cumberbatch misspoke — now let’s get over it and fight real prejudice
Two countries separated by a common language. To understand Cumberbatch’s employing it requires first remembering that he’s not an American. It is now a decidedly “old-fashioned” word here in Britain, yes; but it is not unheard of coming very occasionally from younger whites (like Cumberbatch), although it’s far more likely to be uttered by one born before “1945.”
An older person I know had straight-faced congratulated me this way upon Obama’s election in 2008: “You have a coloured president now. America’s so much more open-minded. It’s wonderful.” Based on the contexts, as I’ve heard it, it is used as synonymous with “black.” Although it could certainly be tossed out as a slur or a put down, that’s not how I’ve (mostly) heard it said.
But how we internalize others’ descriptions of our race or ethnic background is intensely personal of course. I am not black and I would not presume to speak for anyone else as to how they interpret any description leveled at themselves. That said, the language issue raised there led me to recall a vivid, personal experience.
Enough of this and this is how you DON’T finish a manuscript. My wife had to be in central London early Friday. So we drove from Wiltshire to Enfield (the M4 again, but no Sara Bareilles this time) on Thursday night to sleep over at my in-laws.
I was to spend the day at their house. I had brought along my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (as well as all other required electronics). I thought I’d have a few hours to do some writing quietly.
How are things back in 1995? Heh, heh, who am I kidding? I know….
It’s January 2015 now. I’m the older you. I thought I’d write to you and give you a heads up as to how things will go over the next couple of decades.
That girl from France? Nuh, uh. No, you won’t be marrying her. I know she says she loves you, but she also has submerged “worries” you don’t know about yet, but believe me you soon will.
In the longer run, it’ll be fine. Yes, for a while you’ll be sure the world has come to an end, but most everyone thinks that at a time like that. You’ll pick yourself up and brush yourself off. You’ll do college teaching for a few years too, but will fall out of love with that; but, once again, don’t worry.
In a couple of years, you’ll meet another – better – woman, and you’ll end up married and living in England with her. As hard as that is for you to believe. Oh, and she’ll be on at you now and then good-humo(u)redly about that long ago “babe” from across the Channel.
Now, this is very serious, and maybe I shouldn’t mention it, but I feel I have to. Something horrific will happen to the World Trade Center in September 2001. You’ll be in London at the time, in your office at the university where you will then work. Your father will be retired by then, safe at home, and no longer working in lower Manhattan. I won’t discuss the terrible details here. Let’s just move along and stick with you personally.
In years to come, you’ll meet masses of great people you have no clue about in 1995. Several you will come to adore. Sadly you will lose one far before her time, but the idea you might have gone through life without ever having known her…. well, after you meet her you’ll soon find yourself unable to imagine never having known her.
Inevitably, you’ll get a bit grayer, but, hey, you will still have most of your hair. Not bad. You haven’t fallen apart just yet.
Eventually – as tough as this is also to believe – you’ll end up writing novels. Yes, I know you scoff at fiction and love history, but you’ll meld the two. You’ll even base characters on some of the very people you know now (including, of course, Uncle _____, as well as, uh, Mademoiselle…. oh, you know her name), and several who will leave us forever by 2015 (including that woman friend you will make in a few years).
You’ll sort of immortalize them. That’s writing “history” in a way too, isn’t it? Sure it is.
Oh, and you love that Compaq Presario. You’re probably wondering on what PC I’m writing you this from twenty years down the road? Well, things have moved on a bit technologically.
America Online? Don’t ask. And I’m not writing this on a PC anyway. It’s called an iPad. And it uses wifi. Oh, and your future novels will be read on a Kindle, as well as printed by Amazon.
Sorry, sorry, I forgot. You have no idea what I’m talking about with those. Never mind. You’ll find out.
By the way, when you leave your final university job a bit over a decade from now, your boss in England will tell you that she’s sure you’re going to do something “really big” eventually.
Well, currently, you’re still working on that. ;-)