Wednesday, April 02, 2008
THE ZEITGEIST, AMAZONS, A TESTAMENT TO YOUTH AND THE FORESHADOWING...
I recently read THE FORESHADOWING by Marcus Sedgewick. The story rather surprised me because, completely by coincidence, some elements of the plot are quite similar to a screenplay I wrote quite a few years ago, long before I'd read this book. Like many others, my screenplay hasn’t made it to the screen (one can only imagine the vast numbers of un-produced film scripts that lie gathering dust in drawers, in folders and computer files the world over!) and has been read by only a small handful of people, so this is in no way meant to hint at any suggestion of plagiarism by either party – rather to muse on the curious nature of the zeitgeist; that collective consciousness that hovers somewhere at the back of all our minds and sometimes leads to coincidences such as this one – and indeed others where the similarities are even greater. I suppose it’s possible, though unlikely, that both Mr Sedgewick and I were prompted by exactly the same initial influences. In my case these were firstly, the front cover of a non-fiction book called AMAZONS, about women throughout history who have fought in wars while disguised as men (and on this point, I think there's also an old song, something to do with a Sweet Polly Oliver, possibly?). The cover of this fascinating non-fiction book, the authors of which I'm sorry to say I have forgotten, showed a well-known female music hall artist, whose act was as a male-impersonator. She was dressed in the uniform of a First World War Tommy performing a routine called HOME ON LEAVE. And the second trigger was the cinema trailer for the film TITANIC, part of which showed one character firing a pistol at another on the tilting decks of the stricken liner. I hadn’t seen the film, so at that time I knew no more of the actual story than that on board fight. A ship ill-equipped with lifeboats and sinking in icy waters struck me as an extraordinary setting for a fight to the death. I imagined another life-or-death hand-to-hand struggle between two characters – both of them British soldiers, though later they became a man, and a woman disguised as a man – taking place in a similarly unlikely time and place; a shell hole in No Man’s Land, in the midst of an attack during that infamous slaughter known as the Battle of the Somme.
Marcus Sedgewick acknowledges Vera Britain’s extraordinary book TESTAMENT TO YOUTH as a book that helped him recreate the life of a VAD nurse in France during the First World War and I would add my recommendations of the same source to anyone interested in the subject. Rich in detail and filled with incident, I was astonished at how Vera Britain was able to write passages filled with tension, skilfully structured, but which actually dealt in great detail with the most tragic of personal circumstances - the deaths of her fiancé and her brother, who were both killed in the war. I can only imagine the circumstances surrounding these terrible moments were so strongly etched on her memory that to write them down was no worse than to simply live with them, and it might also perhaps have afforded her some small vestige of therapeutic relief. If not, producing parts of this memoir must have been unbearable.
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