The deadline for the final project is dangerously close. I have decided what I am going to write about and I did some research at London Bishopsgate Archives. I also interviewed a person that gave me some interesting insights about the subject of my creative non-fiction piece. I was very curious to learn more about creative non-fiction as a genre, so I wanted to summarise briefly the books we have read in class, which are all interesting examples of creative non-fiction. All of them, in fact, incorporate some of the methodologies that we have studied in class.
We have analysed immersive writing, writing in place, oral history and the selective dialogue. Our path started with Rodinsky’s Room, that contained all the methodologies we have studied.
Rachel had lived through her own trials and doubts, the book was writing itself. An unstoppable momentum; the joyous, terrifying rush of having to work to keep pace with what’s there, the revealed story. Author as scribe. It’s a wonder when it happens, draining the writer as she struggles to live with the promptings of her own inspiration, the voices from elsewhere.
Rodinsky’s Room is not just a book about a young woman that wants to unveil a mystery. It is a book about London, about a man who is not there. It is actually a book about culture, about art, about writing itself. This is something that I really want to put in my project. How does writing work? I want to write something that I care about. This is so important for writers. The protagonist of Rodinsky’s Room is not Rodisnky – it is Rachel herself. So this is the first great lesson that I am learning about creative non-fiction. My project can be all about the author: ME. And about another character that is not there. That is just made by dust, by records, by his/her own traces. As a previous fiction writer, I am going to put myself in my writing more than I have ever done.
Another book that we’ve read is Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison. It is not a contemporary book, and it was written about a part of the East London where we had a trip with our class. It was very interesting, and the fascination of this place brought many writers to study it. The East London that we all know now – Liverpool Street, Brick Lane, Shoreditch – was not as nice and hipster, just some time ago. It was all slums and bad guys. That is what interests me. Bad people. One of the most interesting things about fiction is that you can make people understand “the bad guys”. You can make people understand their reasons, their flaws, their weaknesses. You can be fascinated by them, maybe even like them. As it happens in Child of the Jago.
So: the process of writing about someone who’s not there. And bad guys. This is all very interesting, but I need to put something else in it. And it is London. The city. What can London give me? What is it actually giving me? What am I missing and what am I taking? Am I noticing everything I could? Of course not. It takes more than a life to get to know London. And that brings me to London Overground, another interesting book that we read, written by Iain Sinclair. Even though it wasn’t easy to follow (as you have noticed, English is not my first language), it was interesting. It gave me the feeling that I was there, with him, and that everything could be written about a city. Everything, all the little details, are important and can be poetic. Iain Sinclair writes poetry in prose. About London. That is something I can try to do. Building up an atmosphere through words. The setting comes alive. London is a character itself.
From the slums of the East End to the clean, swift and quiet rolling of the London Overground train. London was, is and will be full of many things to discover, explore and write about. There are so many books, museums, documents and archives. And, of course, places to see.
Then there is the listening part. Hard Times by Studs Terkel is all about listening. People can be interviewed and be willing to talk about the subject we want to write about. I interviewed a person that opened my mind, said interesting things and drank a beer with me. We were at an East London pub, and the sun was shining a little bit. We smoked a cigarette together, and the interview went pretty smoothly. I listened to him and recorded him, then I made him sign a permission certificate. It was everything like we had done in our Oral History workshop, inspired by the work of Studs Terkel. Here it is. Another book that we read and was useful for my research.
The last books we have studied were Findings by Kathleen Jamie and The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. They both helped me in realising what creative non-fiction could be about. We had always read about London, but of course the city is not the only setting that can come alive. Even if the city is full of inspirations, new things to do, little details to discover, every place can be important. Everything can make narrative come out. It can be the beautiful countryside and the research of a bird, like in Findings. Scotland nature is just the place where a woman memoir unfolds. Or it can be the memories, the thoughts that accompany you during a slow walk. Every kind of thoughts. About life, mortality, decay. The most important thing is to make people interested in the discovery that you want to do – and it doesn’t have to be a physical discovery. You’ll uncover a mystery. And that is what people should care about. The city can be full of mysteries, but every place can be. You just need to involve the reader and make their care about what you are researching.
The director Quentin Tarantino once said that details sell good stories. Describing the details is essential. The reader must see what’s happening. It doesn’t matter if the story is set in the coolest place ever. I prefer to write stories about not so famous or attractive places in London. If you provide good details, a story set in a McDonald’s will be more interesting than a story set in Oxford Circus. This is something that I really need to deepen in my own writing. It will be interesting to try to place every sentence and statement of my project in a specific London. East London has a great impact on me. I had never visited it before, and now I feel like I know it. A little. And all these books helped me in realising what I want to write about, how and why.
I am writing a project about Jack the Ripper. I know, I know, it is very banal. But I want to write about Jack the Ripper… and me. And London. And writing. And bad guys. And evil. And the East End. And listening to people, researching in the archives. And creating evil characters just because we need to pour our evil part into something or someone else. And a lot of other stuff. I am very happy about doing this. It is a broad topic, but I’ll put all myself in it. Me, my writing and my insane passion for bad guys.
Damn, how I love bad guys.