Monday, October 24, 2011

I've been greatly saddened this week by the death of an old schoolfriend. Geography separated us long ago and we kept in touch only casually – the Christmas letter, an occasional email, a meeting a couple of years ago when she came back from New Zealand to visit her family. She had told me recently that she had cancer, but her sudden death was a shock.

I couldn't say that we were close now, but we had been close in the teenage years – inseparable, really. We wore out her record of 'Blue Moon' by the Marcels, we could spend a whole day getting ready for a party (whatever did we do?), she gave me my first cigarette – and we 'tired the sun with talking, And sent him down the sky.' I suppose my grief today is for our lost youth as well as the happy and useful life too soon cut short.

As crime writers we deal in death – violent death. It's frequently no more than a plot device, the reason for the story. I have written, dry-eyed and with analytical detachment, about the act, the body, and even the tragic consequences. Yet sometimes, as at the end of my last book, Cradle to Grave, I have found tears pouring down my face.

Perhaps that's therapeutic, a sort of catharsis of the personal experience that informs our imagination. But does that make for better writing? I don't know. It was Graham Greene who talked of 'the splinter of ice in the heart of a writer,' and perhaps getting caught up in the sorrows of your creations is an unprofessional indulgence. Police officers and medics who deal every day with the tragedies we only write about have to preserve their sanity by keeping a distance between themselves and the sorrow of others. It's difficult, though, when you have to be inside the head of a suffering character and to go along that road with them.

The thing that sometimes troubles me when it comes to real-life grief is that in time, like everything else, it becomes something I draw on when it comes to writing. I couldn't fully empathise with my characters' fictional grief if I'd never experienced it. But is that what someone once called the vampire tendency in authors? Right now, the thought makes me feel very uncomfortable.


Rick Blechta said...

My condolences. Friends like that are always a big loss.

Donis Casey said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.

Aline Templeton said...

Thank you for your kind thoughts