Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Crying

As well as my 'normal' teaching, I work with some writers on a regular one-to-one basis. This is a quite different experience, and always rewarding. Yesterday though, something strange happened. As the writer was reading out an extract of her work in progress, I started to cry. Obviously I knew it wasn't a real story, I'd worked with her on the plot even, but there was something about the situation and the words that moved me so much that I just had to let the tears flow. Even more surprising, when I looked up she was crying too. We knew then that she'd got it cracked. This was GOOD writing. Anyone watching would have thought we were mad, cheering and crying at the same time!

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader, said Robert Frost.

Which probably means that Markus Zusak must have kept tissue factories going during the writing of The Book Thief. I got this book after a recommendation from dovegreyreader, but it's taken me a long time to get round to it, partly because of the cover. At the end of a long day, the last person I want to curl up with in bed is death. But I think this is probably my best book of 2007. It's wonderful, it's funny, it's sweet, but god, does it make me weep. It's obviously the story, and the characters, but it's also because the old man in it, Hans Hubermann, reminds me so much of my granddad. He's even got a cellar like my granddad had, smelling of apples and coal. And I used to run to my granddad sometimes to avoid my granny's sharp tongue, just like Liesel does. So I don't want anything bad to happen to Hans, I don't want anything bad to happen to any of them, but I've not finished reading yet, and the narrator, Death himself, has already told me get prepared. I'm wading through the tissues as it is. I'm not sure I can take much more.

I'm living this book, and enjoying it, as you can probably tell. Nothing would be worse than living the lives of the characters in it though. Always on the edge waiting for a hand on their shoulder, or to be picked out of a crowd.

Two other writers who have made me cry this week are Caroline Smailes and Cathy at The New Notebook. Both have been writing about their experience of being bullied when they were growing up, and both capture what it must have felt like so exactly it makes me cold, even now I don't have to go into a school playground ever again (you may have to scroll down some of the entries on both blogs). I never bullied anyone, and was only on the danger list of being bullied a few times myself, but I did stand by once and think 'thank goodness that isn't me'. Never again.

Yours weepingly


Cathy said...

Gosh, Sarah, thanks for the mention.Not my most polished writing, but it was straight from the heart!

I suppose I was lucky that my own bullying was relatively mild and largely stopped in secondary school, but I have been through the mill with my son. In fact it has taken eighteen months for me to be able to write about it at all, but some things need to be said. Thanks to Caroline for starting the dialogue so eloquently.

bob said...

"The Book Thief" was one of my favorite reads this year.

I hope your tears='cracked it' theory is true. Last week, I re-read a story that had been cooking in a drawer for a few weeks, prior to a pre-submission polish.

Imagine my surprise when the ending made me all misty. It's not like I didn't know it was coming or anything.

Shameless said...

I have The Book Thief here, ready to read. My partner read it and loved it. It's a big book though, and you're right about the cover being a bit overwhelming. I will crack on now though. Thanks! :-)

NMJ said...

Hey Sarah, I got The Book Thief as a Christmas present for my mother. I knew nothing about it, just picked it up in Waterstone's and had a good feel about it. Great to read that you rate it so highly! Am sure she will love it.

Sarah said...

Cathy, your writing was beautiful. I admire your courage in writing about it at all.
And yes, Bob, it's so weird when our own writing surprises us. Good luck with the submission.
Shameless, I've just finished it today - it was too big to come to Bruges with me, not really a handbag book. WOuld love to know what you think.
And good present, njm, although you probably won't hear from her for the rest of Christmas if she gets as engrossed me!