Sunday, 26 August 2012

Paying Homage to the Creator of the Galaxy's First e-Book - by Rosalie Warren

The photo shows yours truly adding a pen to a fine collection in Highgate Cemetery. I didn't want my partner to take this photo, but he took it anyway and I'm quite pleased that he did. It was my first visit to Highgate and the tub of colourful pens caught my attention as I passed what was otherwise a rather unassuming headstone. Stopping to look, I saw it was the grave of one of my greatest heroes and favourite writers, Douglas Adams.

As for the connection to this blog... well, The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy - not Douglas Adams's book but the original (and fictional) work upon which is it based - is arguably the Milky Way's first electronic book, though of course there may be others as yet unknown to our civilisation. It was certainly the first one to reach Earth. This revolutionary piece of technology predated the web and most of the internet, foreshadowing it while Tim Berners-Lee was probably still wrestling with BBC Basic. The entry in it for Earth described said planet as 'Mostly Harmless' and then went on to engage with some of the rather more interesting features of the galaxy, such as the Total Perspective Vortex and the poetic heritage of the Vogons.

We visited Highgate Cemetery on a grey morning with occasional glimmers of sunshine and a cool rushing wind. My back was playing up so I hobbled from grave to grave with the aid of a walking stick, feeling about 90 and almost ready to take my place among the inhabitants (thankfully, I'm much better now). The atmosphere struck me not primarily as one of sadness (though some of the memorials to children were almost unbearably moving), but of lively minds far from silenced... still interacting in the wild swirl of meme and memory, engaged in meaty confrontation with intellectual rigour, style and wit. George Eliot's was another grave I stopped beside and offered my thanks for her wonderful novels, her intellect and her courage to be herself. Most of these minds never met in life but they meet now, not just as ghosts (if you believe in ghosts), but as living beings enshrined in their words, still read and discussed today and still influencing the world in which we live.

And some of them, of course, were 'ordinary people', if there is any such thing, who made contributions of a different but no less vital kind. Some lost their lives long before making the contributions they should have made, through disease or war or domestic disaster. All rustle together on that windswept London hill, reminding us how short are lives are but how important it is that we discover what we are meant to do, while here, and do it with all the energy we can muster.

I was pleased to discover in my bag a pen marked Coventry Tales, the collection of short pieces brought out by Coventry Writers' Group last year. I proudly placed it among the pens, pencils and notes in Douglas's little tub. Douglas died far too young, long before he had achieved all of his potential. But at least he reached some of it, doing great work for the conservation of Earth's endangered species, as well as creating amazing characters and writing very funny books.

A final note to this rather disjointed piece. Over the last few days, I've been sorting through the belongings of my recently deceased father, George Warren. Dad achieved many things in life, but I did not know he was a writer, or not to any great extent. Among the things he left is a red holdall full of papers - diaries, short stories and perhaps a great deal more. I haven't read them properly yet. I don't know whether I should. Surely, if he'd wanted me to read them, he would have shown them to me while he was alive? But if he hadn't wanted me to see them, wouldn't he have destroyed them? I wish I knew...

All this, though, has made me even more determined to be true to myself as I write. If I lapse, I will think of Dad's red holdall and of that windy day in Highgate Cemetery. I will forget to worry about publication and 'success', and focus on the bit of me that knows what it is meant to be doing, for as many years as I have left to do it.

Best wishes
Ros

My first e-book - Charity's Child
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5 comments:

CallyPhillips said...

WRITE first, second and last - as Catherine says 'everything else is a distraction' And one day READ your dad's writing. But when you are ready to do so, not just yet. Like editing, so bereavement needs time to 'settle' and transmute until you feel you really WANT to read this stuff. While you are stuck in 'dilemma' stage leave them alone. When you are certain READ. But for now WRITE, WRITE and WRITE. And then WRITE a bit more. It's my prescription to US ALL for autumn/winter months. It'll get dark, wet and windy - the sales 'platforms' and marketing stuff will always be there and always changing and bugging us but WRITING is the key to it all so don't neglect the WRITING. And if you need some time off writing then READ. But be creative EVERY day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (no charge for this prescription in Scotland - charges may apply in England and Wales who knows!)

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Very much identified with this piece, Ros. I remember sorting through my late mum's personal papers - she died 14 years ago on 28th - and finding a meticulously kept notebook containing notes about things she had read and favourite bits of writing, poems and so on, carefully copied out. I didn't know she had done it and she had never showed it to me, but I found it very moving. When she died she was rereading one of E F Benson's wonderful Lucia books, and every time I reread it myself - which I do, quite often - it feels like reaching out to have another little conversation with her.

julia jones said...

I really like this piece. Not disjpngted at all, just meditative. I agree with Cally that of course you shoud read your Dad's stuff -- when you are ready. He probably didn't show you at the time becuase maybe you weren't and maybe he was nervous. Children's comments can hurt so much ...

Rosalie Warren said...

Thank you, Cally, Catherine and Julia for the kind comments and wise words.

Dad was a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and I am now going to read all of his collection of that author's work. I think he had every book and short story PGW ever wrote! I've read some and already know I like them, so I have many treats in store.

Enid Richemont said...

Cally - thanks for your response to Ros's blog - a real (and much-needed) kick up the arse for me.

Ros - I so much enjoyed reading this. As with so many of us, it resonated with something in my own life. I have a close friend who's the daughter (and only child) of a very famous film maker whose name I won't quote for reasons that follow, namely that her dad has Altzheimers, and she's had to put him into a care home. She's recently had to go through his clothes because of an infestation of moths, and the intrusiveness of doing this is breaking her heart. Our lives consist of so many little things - suits and shirts, letters, souvenirs, diaries, photographs... How small we are, and yet, how grand.