Wednesday, January 20, 2016

William Golding

In 1986, I was privileged to meet William Golding. He had a family member living in my state, and during a health crisis the doctor somehow extorted from Mr. Golding the favor that he visit their child's school.

(Have I mentioned that I went to the most obscenely privileged school in the region at that time?)

So William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was thrown amongst the children - a curious fate - and gave us maybe an hour or two of his wisdom.

Often times, high schoolers are the least likely to benefit from, care about, nor comprehend wisdom, but I was at an especially dramatic point in my life, and the heady opportunity to meet a writer whose work had graced my brown formica desk was enough of an impression to get my wee and paltry brain to pay attention.

The immediate impression of William Golding in 1986 was first of his smallness and second, notwitstanding girth, the inescapable association of his white hair, beard, and twinkling eyes with Santa Claus. It may not be he was so very jolly, but high schoolers are so little beyond Santa maybe I had few mental options to associate him with someone more appropriate.

... Golding, 1983 - not so unlike he was in 1986 ... (Image: Wikipedia, credit below)
"William Golding 1983" by Unknown - [1] Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 Bestanddeelnummer. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Commons

He was overwhelmingly generous to give us his time, and appeared happy enough to do it. And his intelligence was of the sort that does not loft above anyone, but lifts those around a thinker to their own level. Inspiring.

He discussed Lord for some time, and opened the floor to questions, and I managed to stand up, spiral in hand, and ask him "Why weren't there any girls on the island?"

This may have been an early attempt at feminism, or it may just have been the internal sensation of being left out that books (movies, plays, YouTube videos) engender in anyone who does not see themselves in their world. I could not tell you with any integrity, but it was my question. And Mr. Golding's answer was as abundantly generous as it was simply bloody smart. I remember it vividly, in two of the key phrases from a slightly longer response.

"Well, I've never been a little girl. And if you bring girls on, sooner or later dreary old sex enters the picture."

It was of course hilarious, and I felt that frission you get when you find someone brilliant responding to you as if you were valid, and they do so in memorably hilarious form.

Lord was not meant to be about sex, it was something else. He first sequestered his characters in a setting uninterrupted by reality, and then from influences beside his point.

He talked about the liberty and joy of just making shit up.

As a writer, he could have researched and checked his facts and created an island following the geological dictates of the planet Earth: but he built his own island, rich in pink granite cliffs he apparently later understood to be geologically impossible. He excluded from his world and his characters those things which would have brought him back to what we so carelessly call "reality" and he wrote and wrote and wrote.

He pulled the trigger, is what he did.

To this day, William Golding stands the end of my line when I begin to go too far down the rabbit hole of research. Sometimes: inspiration STOPS us, too - from doing that work that distracts us from doing the truly inspired work.

The signpost to stop researching and get writing: "If William Golding can get away with pink granite cliffs: I can stop researching after fifteen sources and just name this slave Glykeria."

I even made UP a Frankish name, writing The Ax and the Vase, and said so in my notes, and did not ever edit it out.

There is a need, in any fiction, perhaps most of all in historical fiction, for that pink granite cliff that will make a reader go "hm" and then go read history itself, and learn more, and go from there.

I can also still delete Glykeria - her name alone or her entire character, if I want to. This is where we are in the writing.

Some of what I do is making shit up. Research is a wonderful thing, but making up is even better (much as it is after a fight!).

Some of what I do is taking a trusting leap off a pink granite cliff.

I can assure you: it is OSUM.

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