During one of our last classes, Professor Litt wanted to do some individual tutorials to talk about the project we are going to submit. It will be 5000 words of fiction, and to be honest I was very, very nervous about it. In fact, Professor Litt wanted us to send him an email about what we thought it could be our project and I sent him more questions than answers. I had carefully thought about his classes about multiplicity and simultaneity, about the “London lists” and about how Tom Wolfe depicted New York in The Bonfire of the Vanities. I am writing down part of the email that I sent him and then the answers he gave me and the discussion we had during the tutorial.
I am really intrigued by the thought of writing about London from this point of view. It made me realise that, when I try to write fiction, I just focus on what I know and what is similar to my experience – so I always write about white, heterosexual middle-class people. But of course, and fortunately, London is not only made by these people, and to make writing about London meaningful, realistic and effective, a writer should probably emphasize the presence of many other different people.
I had a look at my “sketches” notebook, and I was disappointed. I felt like nothing could really represent this idea. I felt a bit bad, to be honest. So I tried to think about the places that could inspire me. I was lucky enough to move to Stratford, which I have personally found a bit lame, but is actually a great place in terms of “multiplicity”. Its transport connection, the big Underground, Overground and National Rail station, the bus station and the buses that connect Stratford to Stansted airport make Stratford quite an interesting place to be. Everyday I see people come and go. And just beside the stations there are the Stratford Centre and Westfield, which of course are always packed with people. The street where I live has kebab places and thai restaurants next to British traditional pubs (one of which is famous because it is apparently the pub where Iron Maiden “were born”).
So, I know that the deadline is quite close and I need to start writing as soon as possible, but I don’t want to rush things. Not because I am waiting for the magical inspiration to come, but because I think that writing the city, and therefore writing about multiplicity and simultaneity, could change and possibly improve my writing in general, so I really need to think, osberve and know more. I would like this project to be a good one, so I am sorry if I haven’t come up with a good and precise idea yet. My head is full of questions rather than answers now. How is it possible to write about miltiplicity? How is it possible to tell a story of many, or to make those many meaningful in the story of one or a few characters? How can I write about cultures and people I don’t know anything about? I really need to focus on these questions. The only thing I have come up with so far is that I live in a great city and great neighbourhood to observe people. I would love to write about Stratford.
First of all, Professor Litt told me that I took the multiplicity and simultaneity point a bit too literally. So it’s fine to write about lots of people that are all doing different things, but writing the city is something else. Those people can be encountered by chance, or because my characters have to – and it’s fine that my characters are all white, middle class heterosexual people. Every piece of art is a selection. These people, though, need to encounter other people. And those people may be very, very different.
Professor Litt gave me a good example with the trees. You can look at a tree from a simple glass window, or you can look at a tree from a window with barrels. The fact that those barrels cover parts of the tree doesn’t mean that you don’t know what those parts are like. You know that you’re watching a tree anyway. And if there is another tree that you can see properly because it’s too far and you can only see some branches, it’s the same. You know that it’s a tree, and you have the idea that there is a tree there. The same can be made in writing about people you don’t know anything about. There are many muslims in London, and even if their culture is different from mine and I feel like I don’t know much about their lives and culture, they need to be present when writing the city.