Write About What’s Forgotten

Write About What’s Forgotten

Write a memoir or a story that's set in the past

I find it an absolute gift when a writer can take me back to a time or a place that I’ve forgotten. When you think about it, there is just so much that we’ve forgotten – it’s hard to recall it all. That sounds like old lady gibberish but it captures precisely what I mean, so I’m going to let it stand. Sometimes you have to put the essence of your meaning ahead of the importance of being correct or sensible. (More writers should do that. But that’s not what I planned to write about today!)

If you’ve been around in this life for a while, you will have memories of a time that has passed out of view. Things that your children, or grandchildren, have no perception of. Writing is a wonderful way to bring these recollections back to the surface and admire them as the little gems they are. I spent the last week reading a novel by Alan Hollinghurst, called The Sparsholt Affair, and it’s something Hollinghurst does really well in his writing.

The novel is divided into 5 sections, each set in a different decade, beginning in 1940 during the Blitz. I won’t say it was the most enjoyable read for me. There was a bit too much chopping and changing within the narrative. I’d just developed affection for the characters when the first section ended and then you barely saw them again (the story moves forward with the son of one of the initial characters).

Hollinghurst tended to introduce a lot of new characters in each section, and I found it hard to develop any feeling for them. Empathy for characters is so important to me (which reminds me of this).

But what Hollinghurst does well, he does really well. And he’s all about the social values and mores of the time. Everything is revealed through dialogue and interplay of characters. It almost made the novel feel like a party, as many scenes had multiple people present and involved in the action.

The first section, set during the War while the main characters are at Oxford, was by far my favourite. It gave an insight into the times that I hadn’t had before. One character is fined £20 by the Censor for having his fiancee stay overnight in his rooms. This was a lot of money then.

But it was also clear that nobody was really concerned about young people spending the night together, and that this injunction was more a show of upholding moral standards than an attempt to maintain an outmoded sense of propriety that was soon to be on the way out.

The third section is set in mid-1970s London, and this is where my own sense of recollection and nostalgia began to kick in. It’s also the section of the narrative that Hollinghurst seems most comfortable with – perhaps an indication that he was a young man, at the time, and this is his most ‘at home’ era to write about?

I’m glad that I ploughed on to finish the book, which I may well have abandoned during section two, where I was lost completely. I can only say that I’m trying to meet my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge of 50 books this year and I was damned if I was going to lose the time I’d already invested in this book by making it a DNF (Did Not Finish).

There were a few sensitive portrayals of ageing homosexual men and their relationships, which I found very touching. No prizes for guessing where Hollinghurst’s personal experience lies! But it was the way he could call up a recollection of a certain period in time, through the social forces and intimacies at play, that I will take away from reading this book.

And it’s given me an idea for a prompt for you:

Write a memoir or a story that’s set in the past, bringing in the details of that time. Think about the way people spoke and the things they were concerned with; the social values and mores that prevailed. Try not to explain these things: show them, rather than tell us about them.

Play with this and see what you come up with.
Aim for 500 words minimum.

Do share your writing with me. Leave a comment below or find me on Facebook. And have a wonderful week.

You can read more of my writing here:

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