Monday, March 16, 2020

Names from the Past

When it came to sitting big exams I got nervous like everyone else.  But I was lucky enough to have a good memory and did quite a good job at cramming beforehand, so when it actually came to sitting there in the exam hall and turning over the paper I usually quite enjoyed it in a weird sort of way and afterwards the results were pretty much OK.

Ask me a month later and I wouldn't remember nearly so much.  Ask me a year later, unless you were talking about a subject I'd gone on studying, and all that acquired knowledge would have faded to, 'Oh, I did know something about that, once.'  Make that several years later and...

Well, put it this way, a while ago someone mentioned Thomas Carlyle, the great British historian and philosopher (who lived just down the road from where I am now) and I said guiltily that the only thing I knew about him and his wife Jane was that Samuel Butler had said it was good of God to let them marry each other and not make four people miserable instead of two.

Shortly after that I decided it really, really was time to clear out my student notes and found that not only had I read his books I'd written quite a lengthy essay on them.

Recently I've had quite a few readers who when contacting me, or even talking to me,  have asked some detailed question about the actions of a character, named, without giving any context.  I can feel my mind going blank in an awful, panic-stricken way and have to try to flannel as I struggle to think who it was - or even think, 'I wrote a book that had a character with that name?  How very odd.'

The series characters, like the academic subjects I went on studying, are always  clear enough - indeed, as Rick said last week, I miss them when they're getting on with their own life but I'm not there. But a random character, plucked out of a book I wrote perhaps twenty years ago?  Not a chance.  The book's finished, the incidental characters have left the stage.  I have to embark on a frantic flip through all the books till I come across the name in question.

I'd feel worse about it if I didn't remember that PD James, on a transatlantic flight to take seminars for students of her work, decided that a refresher course might be a good idea, and finished one book to find she'd got the murderer wrong.

If she and I aren't the only ones and it happens to you too, I'd be more than grateful if you have any tips to pass on for what to say while the reader anxiously waits for their reply.


Susan D said...

Well, Aline, I guess that's what search features are for. :^)

Aline Templeton said...

Don't think I didn't try! The problem is that some of the books are so old that the computer they were written on is long gone!