On Inventing the Past from a 21st Century Perspective, and Inventing the Present for Future Generations

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

The year 2020 has become historic within a matter of weeks, even days. There isn’t single person around the world who has not been affected in some way by recent events – every person has their own anxieties, heartbreaks or losses as a result. There are also so many accounts of triumphs and heroics – such a vast amount of experience, uplifting and devastating, condensed into almost every present moment, happening simultaneously to every one of us, all around the world – that it is almost beyond words. 

It seems trite and almost detached, to attempt to document this worldwide crisis in a way that isn’t journalistic or purely informative – I just don’t believe that my thoughts and feelings even come close to doing any sort of justice to what is happening. People are craving facts, tangible numbers, timeframes and certainties when everything seems to lack direction and focus.

There are too many uncertainties, in fact, too many predictions and conjectures. Therefore, as someone who writes creatively, who writes novels and not scientific research papers, this doesn’t feel like my time at all. My conjectures, my emotions, my observations, won’t bring us a cure, won’t end the lockdowns, won’t help people see their loved ones again. 

And yet, there will be those who are writing, at this very moment, stories sculpted around this global pandemic, either directly, or because the present trauma colours their words, in ways that academics, generations from now, will highlight in their analysis. Their writing will be inspiring, uplifting, will focus on the courage, community and caring that this crisis has fostered.

Or otherwise, it will delve uncomfortably into those failings which people have perceived, challenged, fought against – will attempt to teach future generations to learn from present mistakes. Both of these are valid and necessary. But, again, I don’t feel that am the writer to do this. 

. . . .

All of my successful writing to date (in other words, that which I have been able to sustain beyond the first page) has come from re-imagining past centuries from a 21st Century perspective. I’ve researched, I’ve read the literature of those eras and I’ve analysed them with knowledge of the politics, world events and schools of thought of those periods.

I’ve learnt what was subversive, what was progressive, what was theoretically ingrained in the collective psyche of the people of those times, and I’ve attempted to give voices to a tiny proportion of those who were on the margins of history, or those who were not represented, or given a voice – within the limited scope of a handful of characters in a book. Having only written one novel, I’ve a long way to go. And although there must be many people who are using the events of the past to attempt to understand this current situation – I feel that, personally, nothing could have prepared me for this.

How does one even attempt to give voice to the billions of people experiencing this crisis? Impossible. Write about a handful of people then, as I have always done. But who? Again, my struggle – who do I deserve to give a voice to right now, except myself? And my experiences barely even touch upon those I’ve read about or seen.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Womens Books