Saturday, October 9, 2010

Art imitates life and responsibility to the reader

Art imitates life or life imitates art? And responsibility to the reader.

We have had endless days of rain and unbelievable damage to roads, bridges, gullies, yards and houses next to gullies, and very, very sadly, loss of life.

The first day that we were able to reasonably go out after these rains I was in the plaza and everywhere I heard people saying with awe, ‘…and the gully roared. …’. Time and time again, ‘the gully roared’. I realized that it was the first time that many people from the generation with paved gullies had heard them roaring. The roaring declares the fury of the water. A gully roaring is one of the most frightening sounds. I grew up in an area surrounded by gullies; all roads in and out crossed unpaved gullies. In the rainy season we were often marooned.

Suddenly I realised that this roaring, this threat, which I described in my book set in Kingston 1951, The Ring and the Roaring Water was an unknown to many until now. Indeed a friend of mine who lives with a road in front of her house, separating her from the very 'respectable paved gully' next to it, told me that as she knew the gully was rising, she remembered my story and so she knew what she’d have to do; should the water overflow onto the road; she’d have to climb over her back fence to get to higher ground, the residence behind her, up the hillside.

And as we now know, in these recent rains many of the ‘respectable controlled gullies’ did indeed breach their banks, tearing away the land and structures behind them.

In writing for children I believe the writer has a responsibility to the reader. So if you make your characters take certain actions, the reader must know if danger is involved, and the level of the danger.

In my story the children were fleeing the house in a hurricane because the roaring of the gullies seemed to be coming closer and closer, and they thought the gullies might wash away the house with them in it. Why else would you leave the house in a hurricane? So I make them leave the house in what appears to be the eye of the hurricane.

In my original version I had the children crossing the road to reach higher ground on the other side of the road. (the actual lay of the land where I lived). It provided tension as they scrambled through the water and stones tumbling down the road. And then I realised the danger to my characters. Consequently, I changed their escape route, making the higher ground beside their yard and accessed through a turnstile, which did allow for some tension. You see, in the dark they would never know how strong the water was on the road. Too many roads are just old river beds, with the rest of the river beside them, in the gullies, or beneath them, in drains, just waiting, waiting …

When I was little there was a saying/joke. ‘London is on the Thames, New York is on the Hudson and Kingston is on the gullies’. From then we thought a little island should line up itself with big, big cities! However, for those of you who live here, think about it as you move around Kingston, by culverts, over little bridges that you don’t even think are bridges, along roads with neatly walled gullies beside them. Can you go anywhere uptown or downtown without seeing a gully?

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