Showing posts with label war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label war. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Leaving The Line: Images & Words of War & Wondering

Today, Nov 11th, is Armistice Day, and in commemoration I'm delighted to unveil Leaving The Line, the electronic version of the fruits of the WW1 arts collaboration I've been working on for the past year with military historian Jeremy Banning for the Bristol Festival of Ideas. What do you think? I've never really collaborated with anyone before - and Jeremy had never done any creative writing before!


I'm really proud of the set of 12 postcards we've created, with images (some by us) and each with a 100-word short story or poem, 8 written by me and 4 by Jeremy. Between us, we decided to focus on Bristol, on women during the war, on Jewish soldiers, and more generally on giving voice to the voiceless.  The above is one of the 12, we were rather taken with that Flanders cow!

Do leave us some comments on the particular postcard's blog post! The cards are just being printed and won't be for sale, we'll be giving them away, mostly in Bristol since we don't have the budget to send them far...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Strange place to find myself

I never thought it would come to this, but I actually wandered the streets with my laptop searching for WiFi to steal! As you might surmise, I found it, and am now sitting on the Poperinge pavement, my back against the glass front of the pharmacy on the town square (closed on Sundays), listening to the church bells and ignoring odd looks from the passing Belgian townsfolk. Do people not sit on pavements with their laptops in small Belgian towns? Surely it must happen more and more.

I just got asked directions from some suitcase-wheeling tourists, who wanted to go to the one place I actually know around here, so I am useful, at least! Others are staring at me. Well, let them stare. I must blog.

So, Thursday was intense. I got a book, Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, out of the local library's very small English-language section (which has three copies of Joyce's Ulysses, bizarrely) not realising it was actually about Irish soldiers stationed right here in Flanders in WWI. The book is stunning, the writing is beautiful, it is the kind of book you stay up late with a torch under the covers (or the light on if you're a grown-up) because you can't put it down. I became immersed in the story of the hero Willie Dun, a short Irish boy, 19 years' old, who is one of the few from his regiment to survive most of the 4 years of the war. Barry doesn't stint on harrowing descriptions of the horrors, including mustard gas attacks and the like.

I took the book with me on Thursday to Ypres (or Ieper, as it is called round here), the medieval city which was the site of very heavy WWI fighting and was set alight by the Germans. And I sat, having a coffee, in a tea house on the main square, reading about Willie Dun, who can see Ypres from where he is posted, and then looking up from my book to see the funfair they were setting up. I was quite distraught by the incongruity of it all, nearly crying into my coffee. I was there in 2009, and also back in 1917.

When I went to the Flanders War Museum on the town square, I found the graphic nature of the exhibits to be far to much for me to take. Frankly, it bordered on gruesome, the odd recreation of gas attacks. As I was making my way through the first section I heard the sort of enormous BOOM that in Jerusalem would have us all shaking and turning on the radio to find out what had blown up. I soon discovered that this had issued from the room of the museum which "re-created" the experience of making your way through No Man's Land.

No. Not for me.

I avoided it, still shaking, and headed out. The museum shop sold T-shirts. T-shirts???

I waited for the bus, struck by the thought that there is no-one left alive who fought in WWI, or who was around to tell of it. Gone. I had only had a vague idea of the sheer enormity of deaths, but reading Barry's fantastic book and coming here has really given me a greater sense of it. I am not sure what I will do with this new knowledge, except to grieve that nothing has changed since, unless you count improved killing machines and methods for mass destruction.

Friday saw a change in pace as an innocent tuna salad left me throwing up all night. That slowed me down. Today I walked around the Talbot House musem, which has very moving fragments from the letters of British soldiers in the war, and also a reconstruction of the entertainment they used to put on at the House to give them a break from the horrors. Once again, very stirring.

I am off back to London tomorrow, it will be strange to return to the immense hustle and bustle. I am glad I came here, I am sure it will swirl around inside me and something will filter through into my writing. We will see.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hard to concentrate

It's hard to get anything done when you can hear warplanes flying over. When you keep being pulled to the news pages to see about the hell that's breaking loose a few hundred miles away, if that. So, what do you do? You write about it. You let all the sadness and the despair out in your fiction, in an odd way, backwards and sideways, with other people, not you, and other war and violence. Does it help? Not really, because this thing is still going on. But it's all I can do. That is what there is. And this is how I process it. Or escape from it. What a terrible world we live in. And what an awful thing to have to say. May the New Year bring something else, something better, calmer.