Archive for November, 2008

Writing from the heart


At a recent talk I gave about my novel, Checkpoint, I was asked a question that helped me think about the link between fiction writing and compassionate listening.  The question was this (not the exact words) “Did you check your draft for authenticity with people who your characters represented?” I don’t think I gave a reply that expressed my process accurately so I’m going to try and give the reply here that I would have liked to give at the time. The answer is yes, I did send the first draft of the novel to 6 people. The reviewers included a Palestinian, a British Jewish peace activist, a British Jew with family in Israel, a non-Jewish supporter of the Palestinian cause, a literary consultant and a non-Jewish woman with no connection to Israel or Jews. Their detailed and thoughtful feedback was immensely helpful to me in revising the draft and producing the final novel. But the answer is also no.  Several of my characters are men yet I didn’t send the draft to any men.  And even though I sent the draft to a Palestinian woman, her life story and views are different from the Palestinian characters in the book.  The feedback was helpful to me because the reviewers responded as readers, telling me what worked and what didn’t work in engaging their emotions with the story I was trying to tell. The authenticity was in the emotions, attitudes and behaviour of these fictional characters. I had carefully researched and was confident of the accuracy of the physical details of the story – geography, weather, clothing, political events, etc. This is where my experience with the Compassionate Listening trip to Israel and Palestine was invaluable.  There we listened to people’s stories in such a way that we went deeper than their analyses and viewpoints to the values and needs underlying their behaviour, to a place were we could see past disagreements and different perspectives to what we had in common. That’s what I was trying to do with the novel – identify in myself the feelings of fear, anxiety, passion, determination, resignation, etc and the needs for security, self-expression, autonomy, freedom, peace, etc and take those feelings, values and needs that are universal to all humanity and embody them in my characters. That’s what I aimed to do. I’d appreciate feedback from readers whether I’ve succeeded.  The book is called Checkpoint and it’s available on Amazon as well as in bookshops.