For me, as for most people who’ve been to see it, Sam Mendes’ World War I masterpiece 1917, was an experience as much as it was a film. The long immersive scenes, the raw action and the attention to detail all drew me in, so much so that it has stayed with me ever since. The story and lead character are based on Sam Mendes’ grandfather and, unavoidably, my mind turned to my half-uncle, Captain Richard Percy Buxton, who was killed in 1918.
Endings are tough to land; every story writer knows that. Beginnings? Most lines are a beginning of sorts. Many workshops or competitions might give out a starting line and soon you’ll have as many stories as there are imaginations. Quite often for me, a beginning is an intersection, a juncture, a convergence of ideas or places that might be experienced years apart. The point of intersection is where the story blooms, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a heartbeat.
The truth is though, people do. In the same way we judge a plate of food before we taste it, a house by a front door, a company by a logo. Heck, when out walking my impeccably well-behaved Golden Doodle, Duffy (see The Dog Days of April) I’ll judge a dog from 80 yards by the tilt of its owner’s hat and reroute accordingly.
‘Tell me when you’re loaded,’ says Jeff. He’s training me on the job. Our Captain has us in skirmish formation, five yards apart in the woods up on Droop Mountain. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting us to get off the track. It’s rough ground to advance over; I’ve never scrambled across fallen trees in full civil war kit while carrying a heavy Springfield musket. Life hasn’t prepared me for this. Why would it? I’m yet to fire my first shot.
I’m sleeping between two Springfield rifles. Each would be as long as I am were the bayonets fixed, but that’s not a good idea in a civil war dog tent, so called because when the soldiers first saw them they said they were only big enough for a dog. There’s two of us in here.
My wife and I were recently in Italy. It was a last minute thing, taking advantage of the fact that our daughter was away with her school. So at short notice I found myself standing on the worn streets of Pompeii, somewhere I’d always wanted to go without believing I ever would. Like most people, I was amazed at the scale of the place; it’s a sizeable town. It seems that the Roman Empire wasn’t made up after all.
The American Civil War statue debate seems to have dropped below the news threshold, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Unless there’s a full blown confrontation, guns and placards on show, madmen reversing cars over people, then it’s not worthy of our collective time.
The battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga, was principally fought on the 19th and 20th of September, 1863. I could barely say the word Chickamauga five years ago; now it’s a place to which I feel strongly attached. I wrote about it in my masters’ dissertation and it is the main set piece battle in my novel, Whirligig. I frequently query my connection, how an interest in the Civil War and then in writing conspired to bring me to that place. But beyond...
36 ° 6’ N, 4 ° 44’ W. This is where I was when I finished my second novel, The Copper Road. I always like to know where I am. My first degree was in geography so perhaps that’s why. I finished the book on August 28th. For me, the when is not quite so important, although I do like a good milestone.