Thursday, 15 July 2010

A noble cause (2)

Well, my box-maker (see last week) has mellowed. He’s got over his irritation at having to construct such an awkward object – he’s made quite a lot of them, after all – and now he’s sounding much more like the contented craftsman he really is, a man fulfilled by his work. Perhaps on some level I myself felt indignant at the lack of proportion, the asymmetry necessitated by the royal seal; for whose voice could I really be hearing but my own?

It took me some time to understand that what I really wanted to say was that the nobleman didn’t have a monopoly on posterity. Even then, the box-maker at first sounded chippy and snarly (me again?). But eventually I got him to where I wanted him, which was pleased at the prospect of making something which he knows will last every bit as long as the earl’s grant of arms. His sense of self worth is just as well developed as his customer’s, but he doesn’t need the external validation of a title; his craft speaks for itself.

Forthcoming launch dates mean that I can’t yet share the result here, though I will once it’s all in the public domain. But I can thank Olivia Sprinkel, my editor for this project, for reassuring me that I had actually said what I wanted to. As an occasional writer of poetry I find that is not by any means a foregone conclusion. There’s many a slip between a thought and the clear expression of it.

In another part of the forest … my acupuncturist friend (Chinese medicine, June 24) pointed out an inaccuracy in my telling of his story: the person who wanted to give him the job on graduating was the head of acupuncture in the hospital attached to the university; the person who blocked him was the head of department at the university itself.

I’m making the correction publicly (though my friend may think I’m over-egging the pudding) because inaccuracies diminish a story, even if it’s only the teller who is aware of them. The power of a story is directly proportionate to its truth – even in, or perhaps particularly in, fiction, where the wholly made-up story must contain human truths for it to be plausible, to ‘ring true’.

On which note (ringing, I hope), I’m signing off until August 12, when I will return with my ruminatory gland duly refreshed.

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