But, as writers, we have a responsibility.
Our writing, regardless of genre, is reflective of our times. In our words we possess the power to enlighten future generations as to the state of our cultures and societies, their failures and successes, their heroes and heroines.
We have a choice.
We can follow commercial trends and write in the isolated moment of dissociated facts, or we can weave into the fabric of our narratives, stories that leverage our experiences, our knowledge, our feelings.
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Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire:Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! Judge of the Nations, spare us yet. Lest we forget—lest we forget!
From "Recessional", a poem by Rudyard Kipling
What would it be for our stories of vampires and ghouls to revolve around tales of heroism that are rooted in the philosophy of battles between right and wrong? What would it be for our narratives of love and endeavour to struggle against forces that seem destined, on some perennial, visceral level to frustrate our desires for peace and democracy for all?
In fiction we can build on fact. We can draw parallels in previously untold-of worlds. We can bring enlightenment to others and longevity to the past.
In 1873, John Ruskin wrote that ‘…the art is greatest which, conveys to the mind of the spectator, the greatest number of the greatest ideas…’ Writing as an art, then, has a duty to convey great ideas to its readership. It is no option, writing as an artist, to simply relay facts. We must aim to convey ideas, to create within the minds of our readers, images of realities that, while fictional, leave lasting impressions and promote the possibility of learning.
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Consider the plot for a science fiction novel… An unpaid, volunteer space rescue pilot, consistently flying out on deep space rescue missions in an improbably under equipped, manually controlled, aging space shuttle. This space pilot normally shuttles his craft from moon to moon, carrying supplies between outposts. When a distress call goes out, he is first to respond. Is this something for Arthur C Clarke?
Perhaps one of the bravest and most spectacular rescue missions this pilot undertakes sees him rescue 11 crewmen from the meteor-shattered hulk of the galactic freighter Fernebo. And this on top of an earlier rescue mission that same day. In fact, the pilot himself has to battle through a meteor storm to reach the stricken wreck. By the time he pulls alongside the Fernebo, he and his small crew had been fighting the elements of deep space over nearly 14 light hours.
Such feats may have earned the rescue pilot an Intergalactic Federation Gold Medal. They become regular citations! Indeed, some twenty years later, this relentless pilot and his faithful crew are called out to the space barge Sepoy. He might even refer to this later as the worst journey in his then 24 years as a rescue Pilot. He makes several attempts to go alongside the stricken barge but it is impossible to hold his own ship in position to effect a rescue because of the solar winds and meteor showers. He decides to run his own ship onto the deck of the Sepoy. But he only has time to take of one crew member before his small ship falls away, and he has to return and repeat the dangerous manoeuvre. Both crewmen are rescued, but all, including the rescue pilot and his crew carry injuries from the event.
How would our memory of Henry Blogg be affected if Arthur C Clarke had written of such heroism in his novels?
No other lifeboat crew member has been awarded as many medals as Henry Blogg. He was awarded three Gold Medals and four Silver Medals for Gallantry. He was also awarded the George Cross and the British Empire Medal. Henry joined the crew of the Cromer lifeboat in 1894 at the age of 18. He became the Coxswain at the young age of 33 and continued in this role for 38 years, retiring in 1947 at the age of 71. During 53 years’ service, his Cromer lifeboat launched 387 times and saved 873 lives.
As I sat writing this, I remained conscious of 20 years of my own military service – a different time, a different world – and a brother who has just this month arrived in country, in Afghanistan, to commence a tour of duty with the Canadian Forces there. Respect!
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But, I am not a historian; I am a writer of fiction. So, if I am to take a lead from a fictional hero of mine, “It was a dark and stormy night…” how am I going to portray the big, heroic events of the now for future generations to gain insight and ideas from? And how might you, as a writer also, respond? Or, as a reader, what might you expect? Do tell! :)