Saturday, 28 April 2012

Historical Accuracy

I've come across a funny glitch in my writing recently.  I am in the midst of an historical fiction type young adult book about Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus.  She an ancient Greek mythological character.  This is where I've come across an interesting stumbling block - she's mythological.  She was legend already in Classical Greek times, the time we all associate with ancient Greece, with its marble temples and statues.

I'm a Classicist and am fascinated by Antigone and always thought it would be fun to write a book about her - she's so strong, she stands up for herself even when others push her around.  She's a rarity in the ancient world.  I thought creating the classical world in a novel would be fairly easy because I know a fair amount about it.  But soon after I started editing my manuscript, it dawned on me that Antigone wasn't classical, she was pre-classical, possibly archaic and maybe even older. 

Hmm, I thought, researching this age in history.  Depending on how far back I want to go, she could be living in a simple mud brick house instead of a beautiful marble palace.  This will definitely change the tone of the book.  And it affects more than the physical setting - it changes how men and women interacted with each other, as well as things like the politics of the time.

So, I've been wavering - do I stick with the classical world that everyone knows and loves?  Or do I go farther back in time?  If so, how far?  Let's just say, I've managed to distract myself from my actual editing by doing a lot of research on this.  It's so much fun to procrastinate with a cause!

What I've ultimately decided to do (for now) is to make her setting older than the classical time, but not quite the mud brick time.  I'll go with something in between, when palaces were big, but made of wood or stone. 

However, this whole thing has brought some interesting questions up for me around historical accuracy.  I want to be accurate and I know that it is OK to play with history a bit for your story, but how much is okay?  Readers want something authentic feeling, but they also want a good story.

Does anyone have any thoughts around this?  I would love to hear them.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Change in Perspective

I've got something a little different today, something that comes under the "Creative Adventure" part of my blog.
I had an epiphany this morning!  I've been feeling bogged down by how much I have to do lately and I feel like I'm letting it keep me from what I really want to do, which is to spend more time writing.  I'm chair (and secretary) of my kid's school's parent committee, I run a novel writing club at the school, am helping to organize several fundraising events to support the grade 7 leaving ceremony, and am the Kamloops representative for the Word on the Lake Readers and Writers Festival.  I have to get the kids to soccer and baseball, cook healthy, enticing dinners (and lunches and breakfasts, and snacks for in the car after school).  Oh yeah, in the midst of all this, I am trying to edit 2 novels.  You get the picture.

I received an email from a friend who is also doing a lot of work at the school and is frustrated by the lack of volunteers to help.   I am too, and I feel for her.  It is hard to be the one always doing things, to spend my morning organizing clothing orders, typing minutes, emailing people...  I've been getting overwhelmed and am feeling in need of protection some days.  I have, very clearly, said no to a few things lately, things I didn't want to do, and it felt good.

I hit reply and tried to say a few words of encouragement and comfort without sounding trite.  What I found myself saying has completely shifted my perspective.  Yes, I am doing all of this work, yes it is a lot, yes it would be easier if there were more hands on deck, BUT boy are these other parents missing out!!!

I am getting the opportunity, yes, the absolute pleasure, to get to know all of these kids better, to see and appreciate their creative genius.  I, somewhat reluctantly, took on helping the grade 7s prepare a short presentation to be performed on stage at our local theatre as part of a pre-show for a bigger event in 2 1/2 weeks.  We have nothing, just a group of about 15 kids who are eager to strut their stuff.  And boy, do they have stuff to strut, but how to put this together into something coherent and approx 5-6 minutes long, something doable for them to learn in their busy lives in the short time frame?

Well, brainstorming, the kids, on their own, came up with holding performance together with a story.  They would take a picture book a narrator would read a section and a small group would perform their interpretation, then another paragraph would be read and another interpretation would be presented.  This way they could work in small groups on 30 second to 1 minute pieces, but still present a  unified piece.  Each kid could shine on stage and do what they love.  There was a commitment to represent the 4 arts (my kids go to a learning through the arts school) - dance, drama, music and visual arts - in this process.  The first 3 are obvious, but the art?  We don't have the time or resources to do sets.  Well, they would do visual arts by body painting (faces and arms), they will be their own canvasses!  How great is that?

So, they went through the children's section of the library where we were meeting and within minutes came up with the perfect book, Imagine a Night by Ron Gonsalves.  They picked a narrator.  I agreed to type out the text and today when we meet, they will form groups and work on their interpretation of imaginative, dream filled nights.  Honestly, up until an hour ago, I was dreading the extra drive 3 times a week to the school to supervise their rehearsals, but, after thinking about it, I realize it is actually a privilege.  

I realize I need to look at what I'm getting more often than what I'm giving - to slow down and take the time to appreciate this.  That and brainstorming with kids when I'm feeling stuck would probably be good too.
Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver