How did I get from there to here?

‘It’s a long way from Clare to here,

It’s a long, long way. It grows further by the day.’ Ralph McTell.

Man, that’s the story of my life, in a way. It wasn’t Clare of course, and actually, I have no plan to ever go back. But my pockets are never likely to be full of green.  Ah, well. I might have done things differently had I had a lot more wisdom and a little more knowledge, but, well, I’m here now, on a remote island on the far end of the world.

It’d take God to write the script for my life, because, well, he’s able to make the implausible to downright impossible happen, and besides, some of it seems to have called for divine intervention. It’s that or my life is a badly written computer-simulation board-game played by young aliens who have many-sided dice, which, in my case, lands on edge far too many times.

This is why fiction – or at least good fiction – is harder to write than mere fact. Fiction has to make some kind of sense, and follow a logical progression.  Of course not all of it does, and there are ways we authors fudge and obscure all that, but the standards are still generally a bit higher than mere reality.

Look, I was tiny premmie baby, not expected to survive. My mother had no milk for me, and no formula existed at that place and time, and I was allergic to cow’s milk (all the alternative that existed in that time and place).  Someone told her to try carrot juice. Yes. Carrot juice. In a time before blenders and juicers – and, although it obviously worked (at least to some extent) I would not have thought it great nutrition for a child – besides involving grating by hand grain-bags of carrots, and squeezing them through cloth. But put that in fiction, and you’d be laughed out of existence.  Besides, a character like my mother would have had most readers say ‘no. Nobody is that obstinate, that relentlessly determined.’ But of course, people are, and she was.

I was a really frail, sick little kid, (severe asthma long before allergens were well understood or the various inhaled steriods existed).  I spent a lot of time fighting for every breath, exhausted, just wanting an end to trying, with that relentless mother calmly saying ‘Just ten more breaths, Davy.’  She was pretty close to superwoman, really.  

I was stuck indoors (the worst – but best intentioned – thing for my allergy) and thus learned to read very young, and before that make up complicated imaginary stories and adventures with the shapes on his curtains instead of playing outside and running around. By the time I started to grow out of it… (about 7) I became a hyper-outdoor kid who loathed having to sit still. The perfect school-kid. NOT. The only time I could bear it was reading, and so I read through twelve years of school, on my lap.  Belatedly, I’d like to apologize to my poor teachers (who I am sure knew exactly what I was doing, but it beat having me disrupt class, and be a smartass.).  

So: let’s see. Your character is claustrophobic (in that he can handle confined spaces, with distaste, as long as there is airflow), paid zero attention to school-work, dislikes sitting still, or being indoors.  Plausible fiction: he will not become a diver, who spends a lot of time in narrow underwater caves and cracks. He will not follow a profession that requires him to write coherently, and apply arse-glue to sit still and type.

Put my reality in fiction and most people are going to TBAR (throw book across room).  This gets expensive with a kindle.

But when you look closer, and examine whole thing it does start to make some kind of sense. I was deathly afraid of being unable to breathe. Diving and the control that took was a deliberate attempt to control and overcome that fear. Besides, my nine year older brother did it, and he was my beau ideal.  He dived into those caves and cracks, and came out with spiny lobsters, so I would. And I suppose some obstinacy is either genetic or learned early. I’ve been stuck a few times, free diving. I’ve had my air stop on SCUBA and also on hookah – forty feet down, two body lengths into a narrow chasm-cave. Alien player must throw seven sixes in a row to get the character out of there. No panic, no other things go wrong.  I’m still doing it. Still dealing with that fear of being unable to breathe.

And the sick kid… thought books were the best thing ever, and the writing them the most noble of professions. They let him escape from battling to breathe, from being small and weak and stuck inside.  And told himself stories when there were no books. And did we mention he was obstinate, and just possibly not always sensible?

Reality also runs by logic – sometimes tenuously, and sometimes requiring close examination and a daft individual or two, but even it all does fit together. We just, when reporting fact, are allowed to leave that out.

In writing good fiction… it helps to explain just how you got from Clare to here.

And ‘I sometimes hear a fiddle play or maybe it’s a notion

I dream I see white horses dance upon that other ocean.’  

15 comments

  1. “This is why fiction – or at least good fiction – is harder to write than mere fact.”

    Agree, and for me non-fiction is easier to sell to a publisher. That is the man reason I stick to writing history. The plot is set before I start writing it.

    But it does make me admire good fiction even more. I know how hard it is to create good fiction.

  2. I quote George C. Scott as Patton
    “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”
    You wrote a great post today. Thank you for your service.

  3. My grandfather was a pediatrician in the early to middle 1900’s. Diarrhea was a common and deadly ailment. At the time the treatment was to stop feeding the baby and then … It would usually die. He said that since you couldn’t stop the runs you had to give the baby super nutrient stuff so that something might stick as the stuff swept through the system. Like beef tea or apple juice. He also said nurses would rebel about dealing with the mess for days but mothers would stick with it. Eventually the baby’s system would come right –but only if someone was willing to keep feeding them and cleaning up. God bless mothers.

    1. It’s still deadly. And it can be treated with a therapy that costs less than a dollar even in the worst cases, namely cholera.

  4. Meh. Consider that our childhoods till about six/seven were very similar. Including the premie thing, though thank heavens mom had milk. Btw, yours is not the worst infant diet possible. Dad in same situation was fed on…. rice water. Boil rice A LOT. Put in cloth and squeeze. Feed that to baby.
    He’ll be 90 next spring. I hope as I’d like to see him again. And right now it’s not possible.
    I’ve seen people assume if mom died in older days, kid would die, but yeah. You and dad militate against it.
    And you tell me the plausibility of girl in village in Portugal, with family who spoke no English, except grandad who spoke it, but didn’t write it deciding at 8 that she was going to be a writer (in English, natch) and live in Denver…. and making it.
    For reference I was so cognizant of geography that I thought Denver was by the sea. 😀
    But hey, still here…. Still kicking. Plausibility if for ninnies. We swim in the stream of high improbability!

    1. As long as it’s not Infinite Improbability…
      ———————————
      Harris — Biden 2020
      (We can see who wears the pants)

    2. I think, Sarah – for both of us ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘That is impossible’ = hold my glass :-D. And now all we have to is ‘nil carborundum illegitmi.’ God knows, they’ve tried. And they’re still trying. One thing is for sure we have not had an easy or even level playing ground. I’d like to experience that in the writing world, just once. A fair go. The same chance/support/promotion/laydown/cover etc the dahlings whinge about, and see who comes out selling most.

      1. 😀 I just tend to do it, and get informed later that “undergraduates don’t do research in foreign language archives,” “girls don’t do military history,” and “no one can write a good history book in less than a year [from start-of-research to finished manuscript.]”

        Oops.

        1. “undergraduates don’t do research in foreign language archives,” what?
          When my mom was an undergrad > 50 years ago, she helped a classmate translate some articles from original, old style, German. BTW, she was a physics major, and the articles were about chemistry (yep, he was a chemistry major).

          1. I was in Germany as a university exchange student, needed material from the German Army Archive, and had a one-week break from university classes. So I got a letter of recommendation from my undergrad advisor in the ‘States, showed up at the front door of the archive, and said [in German], “Hi. May I do some digging next week?” They were so nonplussed that they let me in.

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