Monday, March 16, 2009

Simple, hard

I'm working on a scene in a new novel, scene with a World War Two Royal Navy veteran flashing back to battle at sea while a thunderstorm crashes. The character, Dick Harnum, is based on my maternal grandfather, Harold Francis, a Newfoundlander who served with the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit and then the Royal Navy in WW2. My grandfather hated thunderstorms; I never knew why until about a few weeks ago.

Thunder dragged him back to the guns.

My father found him one day, hunched in his chair, gripping his head, pale and terrified when he finally looked up: -- Oh God, b'y, the thunder.

The low storm that day made everyone's ears vibrate.

Being at sea makes my ears hum and slush, and occasionally vibrate.

My grandfather's head, reinforced by a metal plate after injuries in a blitz -- did that also vibrate with each bang of thunder?

Bent at the waist, gripping his head ...

Try sitting in a chair, bent forward at the waist, holding your head. Either bit of flesh on your belly, and your breathing's cut. So, head pain, ear pain, fear, memory, shallow breathing, ears sloshing -- body memory of being at sea -- ship up, down, port, starboard BOOM up, down, port, starboard, smoke and screams and alarms and BANG dark mystery Where the fuck are we silence silence silence mouths just dark holes ears unblock BOOM ...

A half hour listening to RN footage on Youtube, bang of the naval guns. Five minutes hunched in a chair, elbows stabbing my knees, hands caging my head and those cut short breaths --

Trivial bit of method acting. Pathetic, really. And the comic-book diction of "boom?" Failure of words. And imagination.

Imagination here not just a gift but a duty.

So. Head pain, ear pain, fear, memory ...

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett
in progress