Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning the Language of the Past

The notebooks excited me because, for all their gaps and mysteries, they recorded, verbatim, conversations around which I could build a story. I’d have to invent the context for the conversations, and I’d have to speculate about the people who spoke the words, and I was uncertain about how appropriate it was to do that. But in the end I felt it was important to try, because this story was one that recorded an aspect of our past—shared between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians—that was hugely important. It records a moment in that shared history where mutual goodwill and generous curiosity created real understanding.
Australian novelist, Kate Grenville (shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize for The Secret River), writes about how the contents of two notebooks brought alive to the friendship between a young lieutenant in a newly formed penal colony at the end of the C18th, and a young aboriginal girl; and how she set about using and this material and fleshing it out with further research. She says:
As a novelist I have latitude to speculate, to add, to omit, to guess and even to invent. But I also have available to me all the richness of the historical record. In a tradition that goes back to Homer and beyond, I’ve taken events that took place in the real world and used them as the basis for a work of imagination.
(You can preview the novel, The Lieutenant on Google Books.)

There are so many more excellent articles for the various editions of Quill magazine posted up on Eric Forbes' blog, so I urge you to go have a read. Quill seems to have evolved over the past couple of years into one of the best literary magazines - anywhere!

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