Friday, July 12, 2013

A Way With Words

I've been reading Conventry by Helen Humphreys (HarperCollins, 2008), a novel I highly recommend. In 175, pages Humphreys tells a compelling story of love and loss during wartime, with particularly vivid descriptions of the bombing of Coventry during World War II.

It is also the story of a friendship between two women, Harriet Marsh and Maeve Fisher, who meet only twice, each time under very different circumstances, over the course of 26 years. Although they don't know it until tragedy strikes, they share a connection through Maeve's son, Jeremy.

Each woman is creative in her own way: Maeve is an artist and Harriet "writes descriptions." Harriet's writing began as a way to feel connected to her young husband,Owen, even after he is killed at the battle of Ypres in 1914.

Harriet types up her descriptions after hours where she works. Finally, she finds herself growing disenchanted with the process. In Humphrey's words, "She is tired of trying to hammer a moment shut with words." I love that metaphor.

If you've ever tried to write in order to preserve a special time or place, you will be able to relate to that. I know I do. Now that I am doing less writing than I used to (and spending more time on research) I still continue to "write descriptions." In the same way a photographer takes a picture to preserve an event, I write "to hammer a moment shut with words."

Isn't that lovely?

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