Chronotopia cured, or ‘a biographer…writes’

In my post on 12 September, I described how writing the blog nearly every day whilst attempting to finish the book had induced a kind of schizophrenia: the blog tells the last year of George Calderon’s life day by day in a species of real time, whereas writing a biography you are engaged with an extended piece of time past. I found it very difficult to hold the two in my head at once. The relevant circuits in my brain kept crossing and shorting. I suggested that the blog narrative and the book narrative are different ‘chronotopes’, i.e. time/space forms. My brain was suffering from ‘chronotopia’.

What I have been a bit coy about, is that this appeared to lead to the only writer’s block I have ever experienced. Try as I might, I found that when I was writing the blog in October I couldn’t write the chapter of the book at the same time. In a sense this wasn’t surprising, as the ‘deep’ research was being done for each day’s blog, and in the past I’ve never started writing a chapter until I was happy that the research had been exhausted. On the other hand, for two months I found it was simply impossible to write ‘continuous’ narrative when I had been writing ‘discrete’ narrative every day on the blog. For two months I didn’t write any of the book at all.

Fortunately, as soon as George was off the battlefield I found I could write the part of chapter 14 dealing with Belgium very ‘continuously’ at about 1000 words a day. One way of looking at that would be to say that around 30 October 1914 I could at last get my head round everything that had happened to him since being taken on by the Blues as an interpreter, and tell that story rather than the day-to-day (blog) story. In a funny way, it’s as though once he was immobilised in bed at the Sussex Lodge Hospital I was free to get moving again myself (partly because we didn’t actually know what he was doing each day).

After that, I pretty soon got ahead of the blog timeline in the book timeline. In fact I have now written this chapter up to March 1915 and am researching Gallipoli like mad (his own biographical documentation is dense enough after the beginning of May; what I need is thicker contextualisation of what he was doing). I think this was the breakthrough — getting ahead, at last, of the blog’s ‘real’ time. It’s been strangely liberating; the end of ‘chronotopia’ or even, if you like, of writer’s block…

To be frank and not coy, it would have been a disaster for the book if I’d remained locked in blog time: I wouldn’t have been able to finish it until after the closure of this blog next July! It would have meant that although 90% of the book was written before I started the blog, it would have taken me a year to write the remaining 10%! As it is, the book has already taken me eighteen months longer to write than the two years I’d envisaged, because (a) the Net has enabled me to track down far more about George than I ever thought possible, and (b) he led such a ‘fascinatingly diverse life’, as a publisher’s letter recently put it, that special chapters had to be researched on his involvement in anti-suffragism, strike-breaking and ballet, to name but three areas.

I only hope that the galvanisation of my writing of the biography doesn’t have a dumbing and dulling effect on the blog. Two followers have already intimated that it has! Alas, perhaps they were expecting a post literally every day.  The biography must be finished early in the new year and I have to find a publisher whose production flexibility might enable them to bring the book out around the centenary of Calderon’s death. I see that Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas are well provided with new biographies coming out for the anniversaries of their death. Perhaps, when you are writing the first biography, you are allowed a little latitude in strict commemorative time?

Next entry: Words (Edwardian) again

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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