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Collective and personal - prose, screenwriting and the heart of life

David Tiley

Let's talk about personal writing from a screen perspective. it's all about revelation, hunger and professional discipline.
Collective and personal - prose, screenwriting and the heart of life

Image: page from The Book of Kells, via Pinterest

ScreenHub = journalism. Fact of life. But two personal pieces have disturbed our professional distance, and remind us of the healing power of writing about ourselves. 

Sam Carmody has given ArtsHub a personal piece called A writer's guide to diving deep and encountering shadows, created as a celebration of his first novel, The Windy Season. The article is about the power of language.... no, the article is about the power of writing to find self knowledge and give ourselves back to ourselves. 

'A few years ago, my dear friend, the author Brooke Davis, found herself writing about the sudden and tragic loss of her mother, and the experience of being adrift in the pitch-dark of grief. But what emerged in the process of writing was an uproariously funny and light-filled novel, the bestselling Lost and Found; a novel that gave shape to the formlessness of loss. This, I think, is the miraculous alchemy of writing. The way a story can give shape to the shadowy and unfathomable, both for the writer and the reader. As David Vann has said, “writing is a second chance.”' 

Emma Clark Gratton worked with us for a while, sitting at the next desk, just out of touch, concentrating fiercely, often on the basic chores of journalism. She has two sons and an intriguing husband and a rich life in a house with a garden, braided with  the anxieties of families in our times. I read her blog which is touching and entertaining; about her family and her pregnancy as her first daughter grew inside her. Sometimes I have told her the truth about her writing. She is deep, and supple, and powerful.

She has just lost her baby. Her blog post is called The very worst thing and it begins with this.

'I don’t know where I was when my daughter died. Perhaps I was asleep, or playing with her brothers, or complaining about the exhaustion of pregnancy. Perhaps I was sorting out the baby clothes that we were preparing to fill her drawers. I don’t know what I was doing when the placenta finally gave up, when her cells stopped multiplying. When her tiny heart stopped beating.

I don’t know who I was when my baby daughter died.'

As friends we grieve with her, touched by reality on a busy Thursday morning. But we have another thought too, which creeps in and seems almost indecent but won't go away. 

While Emma is wild with pain, she has written a piece which is so beautifully composed, word by word towards a transformative conclusion that I can only honour the precision and poise of the art. We are not just talking about truth-telling, though there is plenty of that, but the heart of the thing is about discipline and technical balance. The shape and movement turns out to be fundamental, to be healing in itself. The art brings a ritual consolation, a form of music. 

I emailed her to ask permission to use this article. In her reply she wrote, 'This is a truly horrific ordeal and writing about it has been cathartic for me.'

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Sam Carmody and Emma Clark Gratton are revealing themselves in ways which are foreign to writers in the screen community. Even if we deal in prose, as I do, we tend to remain instinctively private. We like the collective process and the industrial disciplines of entertaining an audience, and recoil from the confessional mode.

Still, it is all part of the rich, mysterious psychology of writing in which something always comes out of nothing, and the nothing is our inner selves. We can't get away from it and we too respond deeply to the art of intimate honesty.

 

About the author

David Tiley is the editor of Screen Hub.

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