Today, as part of the #AlfredNightingale blog tour, I’m featuring a thoughtful guest post by Rebecca Stonehill on why she writes. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Rebecca.
You know that feeling of complete helplessness after you’ve watched the news? Watching reams of people leaving war-torn Syria, or the latest terrorist attack in a crowded market, or corrupt dictatorships making its own people suffer? Feeling deeply saddened, but not knowing what you can do about it, that the only option is to continue and make the most of our own lives?
I go through all of the above, as almost everyone does. And then, as somebody working in the creative arts, I interpret and personalize situations such as these. Toni Morrison, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist once said of the artist’s task in troubled times: ‘This is precisely the time when artists go to work.’ I couldn’t agree more. It’s an unspoken pact I have with myself, to respond to difficult situations with writing. People have sometimes asked me, How can such a cheerful person like you base your novels in such un-cheerful settings? (Think: The Spanish Civil War in The Poet’s Wife, Prejudice and Mau Mau Emergency in The Girl and the Sunbird and the Battle of Crete in The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale.) The truth is, if I didn’t write my way through such difficult scenarios, I’m not sure I would write at all.
But that doesn’t mean that all this is simple catharsis; I know there are other people out there who feel the same as me and are deeply disturbed by what we as a race do to one another and what we are doing to our beautiful planet. I completely understand why people both write and read chick lit or light romances, so we can remove ourselves from the sober realities that surround us and indulge in some much-needed escapism. This is a hard written art form to do well. Often I wish I could write these stories, but I find that I can’t and that whenever I’ve tried, I’ve failed.
Everybody says I was a serious little girl, reserving my smile for only a few; that child who listened intently, but never put her hand up in class. I’m far less serious these days and love nothing more than a good laugh with friends and family. And yet, that serious child lives on in me. She is the reader who would like to but can’t read anything lighthearted, and she is the writer who returns again and again to mine the depths of human despair in her stories.
Thankfully, there’s a flipside to all this. And that flipside incorporates those stories of courage, resilience and beauty in the face of human suffering. We are a strange, remarkable species – capable of so much destruction and hatred and yet, we also know how to love unconditionally and to be the harbingers of great compassion, generosity and joy.
Through my writing, I try hard to make sense of this complicated world and understand why things have happened. Even more importantly, I look for and create stories of hope, that beautiful little word that allows us to press on through the direst of situations. I am so inspired by tales of courage and resilience and, in many ways, my writing bears testament to the spirit of human bravery.
Author EB White said that a writer ‘must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.’
If I can do any of the above, in any small way, then I believe I have achieved what I set out to do. Where all this will lead me, I don’t yet know. But I have a thousand and one stories bottled up inside me, so the real question is this: where will my need to make sense of the world take me and which story will be released next?
Rebecca Stonehill is from London but currently lives in Nairobi in an old wooden cottage surrounded by banana trees and tropical birds. The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, now available, is her third novel. Her other books, The Poet’s Wife and The Girl and the Sunbird, were published in 2014 and 2016.
Rebecca loves to connect with readers and can be contacted on her Facebook page: Rebecca Stonehill books, via twitter: @bexstonehill and through her website: www.rebeccastonehill.com. If you would like to be kept updated with her writing projects, please do sign up here: http://rebeccastonehill.com/signup