This time tomorrow I’ll be on the road in the company of my husband and my 92-year-old mother, on a trip down Memory Lane.
These trips seem to have become annual; the first happened three years ago, and my mother said it would be her last journey which took her away from home overnight, but somehow this is the fourth time. My family’s roots are in south Wales, (which for the benefit of American blog-followers who haven’t studied much British geography is NOT part of England!) and my mother still speaks fluent Welsh and attends a Welsh church close to her home in the English town she has lived in for 60 years! A huge amount has changed in those years, in both Wales and England, but it always surprises me to find how much is the same. My mother isn’t given to talking about her past, but an interesting part of these visits we make is getting her take on the things that have changed in the places she grew up in, and the things that haven’t.
And, in the way these things go, heading off down Memory Lane set a tangential train of thought in motion. When I taught creative writing classes, an exercise I used to give my students to fire up their imaginations was this: write a brief account of something significant that happened to you in the past – then write an account of the same incident, but viewing it from the point of view of someone else who was involved.
The exercise was only part of the process. The objective was to open their eyes to the way fiction draws on reality, and how memories play a large part in building a story. Tangential trains of thought again! The memories are often recent ones; every writer I’ve ever met stores away details for future use. I was in touch with an author recently, who described travelling around Europe on a promotion tour for his first novel – and finding himself with time to spare to look round a city, which turned into the main location for his next novel.
I’ve done it myself, too many times to count. A memorable holiday, or any kind of visit to a new place can fire up all kinds of synapses; meeting someone who made an impression on me sets up a whole raft of ‘what if?...’ questions.
Writing fiction is an imaginative process; of course it is – writing crime fiction especially. It plumbs some pretty dark depths of one’s inner self, and only the tiniest proportion of crime writers have actual experience on which to base the creative process. But imagination is extrapolative; it has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere lies in the memory.
My own forthcoming trip down Memory Lane will be brief and filled with family time – but I’m still wondering which synapses will be fired, and who I might encounter to generate those ‘what ifs...’
Watch this space.