Monday, December 02, 2013

Where were you when...?

Thomas has already answered the question about JFK's assassination  and the past week saw the same question asked in a lot of the British  press as well. 

I was a very new student at Cambridge University at the time , living in Girton College which was a couple of miles outside the city centre.  In common with many of my friends in those more innocent days, hitch-hiking was a standard way to get into town and I had found a friendly lorry-driver who told me President Kennedy had been shot.  'Oh,' I said, 'I hope he wasn't badly hurt?'  It didn't seem possible that such a towering figure could possibly be dead, just like that.

I remember, too, where I was when I heard that Princess Diana had died, and when the planes hit the Towers, and when the gunman went on a killing spree in a nursery school in Dunblane  as a young Andy Murray cowered in another classroom.

The reaction was the same in each case -'This can't have happened!' - and it had a sort of freeze-frame effect that keeps the tiny, trivial details fixed in my mind even fifty years later.

Victims of terrible events talk afterwards about how slowly everything seems to move, how small things become weirdly significant.  We all write about sudden and violent death..  As a reader, the crime scenes that stay with me are not the most graphically shocking.  It's the ones where I step with the observer through description of small details that build up to the confrontation or the discovery.  That's what makes it real, makes me feel I'm there with them, has me on the edge of my seat. 

Some one will tell me, I'm sure, .who the writer was who first said 'write the slow scenes fast and the fast scenes slow' rule, but it's a formulation of a psychological truth. 

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