‘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.’