Writing Fiction: Trial and Error

On January 18 1900, my great-great-grandfather’s cousin, Lily, wrote him a letter.  At the time he was stationed in Simla, India.  She had married and moved out to Beaconsfield with her new husband Fred.

By the by, any correct appellation is now Mrs Fred Palmer.  I am known amongst the Palmers’ friends now as Mrs Fred simply.

She continued:

I lead a pretty quiet life but it suits me very well – this is a nice old town and the country round is pretty and the roads good as a rule.  We have had so much wet lately that they are very dirty now, and I have not had my bicycle out for about six weeks.

Apart from the fact that weather doesn’t seem to have changed much in a hundred years, I can guess from this that she and I have shared an experience: the trial and error of attempting to balance on a bicycle, and the great joy of achieving it for the first time.  I’m sure I can remember that moment.

In learning to write I have read many How-To books (a friend and I used to joke at the number).  I’ve also attended courses, workshops and a retreat.  But in the end any progress has been as much to do with trial and error in finding my own balance: how to write a character, create a plot, and develop a voice – what is my voice?  It is likely to continue for some time to come.

The documentary Man on Wire shows Philippe Petit’s attempt in 1974 to walk across a wire suspended illegally between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.  Halfway across he lies on his back, the pole across his chest, master of balance.

I could only hope to achieve such heights.


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