Monday 17 March 2014

Empathy, Creativity and Humanity.

Just grazed on some Tiger bread (from Asda in Wales) with slices of my husband's roast beef (thank you for The Hubster; thank you for the beef!) from yesterday slathered with salt and English mustard whilst savouring the memory of fresh Lobels bread with a dark - almost burnt crust, often ripped from the loaf in our kitchen in Greendale, Harare, before hopping on my bike to ride to Courtenay Selous School; but sometimes eaten with the leftover Zimbabwean roast beef from the night before that we kids actually beefed about having too often! Crumbs!

I spent part of last night at a meeting chatting to a new friend who had just bought my first book, 'After the Rains,' about growing up in Africa - she in Tanzania - me in Zimbabwe. We agreed that there was nothing so potent as an African childhood, though of course everyones childhood is potent to them. When she described going to boarding school in the hills of Tanzania, and we talked about precarious African bus rides that seem to be homogenous to Africa, I almost cried internally recalling further experiences evoked as she spoke, such as the forts I had made out of leaves and sticks in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe on an early school trip there - but also because I 'felt' her experience on a vicarious level, and as such it was shared on more than one level - of which more  to follow. 

One of the editors at my previous literary agency (Toby Eady) told me that the attack scene in ATR was the best war scene he had ever read - high praise, particularly given that I am a girl! I have many readers around the world, many of whom are ex-military (some even Selous Scouts! - who have been blown away by the book, if you will pardon the expression) and am gratified that I seem to have a balance of male/female readers as I try to write about human experience in a gender neutral way - and at the risk of coming across as lofty - in a transcendent way - in the way that my writing functions on various levels including, and especially of late, in a 'spiritual' way. Last night, another friend who had been reading ATR commented that she found the attack scenes in ATR really frightening and asked if I had experienced attack directly. I replied that though I had grown up in the war years, I had not seen the attacks I describe in the book - though they were authentic; but the proximity of war and the experiences of those in propinquity to me had shaped my imagination and I believe helped me write in such a visceral way. 

Memory is so powerful, and it has an ability to attract and attach to the memories of others who have had the collective experience of something deeply personal, shocking and life changing as living through a war, if only indirectly. I am often asked how I write scenes like the one outlined above and I think empathy is key. I remember hearing about attacks on the radio in Zimbabwe in the 70's or seeing the newspaper photos and being drawn into the story and imagining myself in the position of the people in the story and how they must have felt. I would plot my own stories of 'escape' based on the true life accounts. Of course I was also often the heroine who would rescue others too - and I think as a people it serves us all well to use our imaginations to 'feel' what it must be like to undergo the experiences of others - it  heightens our creativity and keeps us in touch with our collective humanity.

I am currently an early twentieth century man Owen Evans with him/as him! - in the trilogy I am writing and am enjoying going through the highs and the lows of his life (even though they arise from my imagination, or better, from the collective memories, however distilled of the collective and universal 'us.'

‘After the Rains’ is a stark reminder of the pointlessness of war. Each side holds views and these views are a catalyst for justifiable murder and the destruction of family life. Emily Barroso brings Rhodesia to life in her novel and one can almost feel the hot sun and the beautiful landscape. This idealism is destroyed as the Rhodesian Civil War engulfs the country and the novel’s narrator, Jayne, is forced, after a terrorist attack, to flee her childhood and farm with her family. Barroso explores relationships between black and white, right and wrong, and the reader is left with a grey area called life and the fact that ‘It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky’ (Tolstoy). A great novel and well worth reading.
Lindsay Jardine, The South African