…or at least that is advice vaguely handed out to people who claim they want to write.
And to a certain extent, it’s probably a good starting point. After all, if someone can’t write convincingly of their immediate surroundings and experiences, they are unlikely to be able to conjure imagined worlds and scenarios.
But after a while it’s a very restrictive instruction and will lead more to diary or journal writing than anything more creative.
Which leads me neatly on to my own immediate situation – one that in turn has had me search my reading memory for fictional accounts of those oh so easy and everyday accidents that suddenly stop you and your life in its tracks and put everything on painful hold.
And I can think of very few.
Which is not surprising since such incidents bring actions to a standstill – which rather runs counter to the drive, pace and point of a novel – characters need to do things, go places and propel the story along.
In Persuasion, Louisa Musgrave does indeed have an accident on the Cobb at Lyme Regis – and reading it again is to see how accurately and brilliantly Jane Austen conveys the event – she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb and was taken up lifeless.
The speed and instantaneous nature of such accidents is displayed in her perfect economy of language. These things do indeed happen in a moment!
Interestingly enough, there is a fleeting reference in chapter 7 to another accident, to a child whose collar bone was found to be discolated . But there is little detail and certainly no words wasted on the perspective of the child and the pain he must have been experiencing without access to modern analgesics – although maybe strong spirits were allowed as relief in those days!
But back to the situation of Captain Wentwoth as he calls out is there no one to help me? as Louisa lies helpless and lifeless out on the Cobb.
Then the consequent muddle of Musgraves and Anne as they go in frantic search of A surgeon! and convey the patient to a convenient house suitable for her care.
This all, naturally, differs dramatically from my own 21st century situation when I tripped and my left shoulder collided regrettably with the hard ground late on Thursday afternoon.
For a start, the possession of a mobile phone placed me at a considerable advantage.
Then my setting, no Dorset coastline, but the Old Brompton Road and close to the A and E department at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital – distinct advantages over the situation of frisky and foolish Louisa in Lyme. (and don’t even get me started on the bliss of the loving, caring and speedy NHS in an emergency – notably absent in the early 19th century.)
And most of all, poor Louisa did not have an adult son to summon, who by the greatest good fortune happens to work close by to said setting of my pavement trip and heroically took charge and directed subsequent events – although I suppose I could cast George as a contemporary version of Captain Wentworth ….
But back to literary accidents.
Apart from What Katy Did and a certain misfortune with a swing, the only ones I can recall seem to be fatal and climactic – The Great Gatsby comes to mind – rather than mundane and everyday.
But perhaps my memory is not serving me well.
And of course, I certainly have time now to research the subject with the rest of life somewhat on hold as I wait for my humerus bone to reunite and decide that one whole is better than three broken parts …
And books -I have endless books to read – the kindness of family and friends inexhaustably wanting to help, stocking my fridge and flower vases and sending messages – I only hope Louisa and Anne and all the other injured literary heroines I have no doubt overlooked felt so fortunate in their misfortune!