Sunday, 25 September 2011

The stuff of legend

... no, not the epic tales that come from standing at the taxi queue in Doncaster at three in the morning...although they are legendary.

I'm talking about the American Civil War. Being a Yank myself, I hold a special interest in it, one that I was kind of surprised to see is shared by at least a percentage of the British population. My friend from the States was visiting me one year, in July of 2008, when we heard gunfire. And this is what it was!

The American Civil War at Cusworth Hall, right around the corner from where I was living at the time. So we followed the terrifying artillery sounds and came across

The North

and of course

The South

And  I was immediately reminded of W. P. Inman from Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. The hangdog look of a starving and desperate deserter on his way home from a horrible atrocity of a war.

Which, as it turns out, I am currently reading. Again.

I quite like this book because it literally, and with no shame whatsoever, straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction. W. P. Inman was Frazier's ancestor who was indeed wounded in the Civil War, and had had enough and decided to pull up stakes and leave in the the midst of his hospital furlough, 1864.

One of my fellow writers in our Doncaster Writers' Group this past week mentioned he didn't want to get bogged down in genre: he didn't want to be seen reflecting any certain genre he didn't like. One of my other fellow writers said she wanted to tell her true life story of going down the mining pits of Doncaster, being one of the few women who did so many decades ago, but didn't know how to prove it.

I think Cold Mountain, although you find it on the fiction shelf, can be a great way to open yourself up to the possibilities of story. Because after all, that is what a narrative is. It is about character and circumstance and how things change at the end, without being stereotypical or fomulaic or cliched.

Frazier does this in a particularly interesting way. He takes W. P. Inman's real story from what his father told him. This may have added up to one or two paragraphs. And out of that, he does some research about Cold Mountain, the Civil War, the regions and culture and plants and bugs right down to the smallest details, and fills in the blanks. And voila, you have a 356-page book.

I think what I like most about this book is the unwavering focus that Frazier has on his characters. Even though it only takes place between about end of August or early September through to December of 1864 (so just a few months), the chapters are rich in all the materials that make up existence in a rather god forsaken area of the warring South. He makes it real.

And so, this is yet another book I am highly recommending... even if you aren't into the Civil War.

The 19th Indiana Regiment and us. I am glad that the North won.

Happy Sunday, all!


  1. My brain just completely locked up. I can't even reconcile this scene. LOL!

    [Reboot in progress...stay tuned...]

    My experience was sooo different! In a pub in Reading I had a guy tell me, albeit through a drunken haze, "You Yanks just think you are sooooo hot because you won your independence." LOL! All I could think was..."Ummmm...wasn't that, like, 200 years ago???? You're still mad? And HOW did that directly affect YOU?" [Here, mate, let me buy you a pint and say "sorry" on behalf of my ancestors.]

    So for the Civil War to be "celebrated?" O-M-G. ;oD Thanks for the fresh perspective! You are awesome!

    [STILL laughing]

  2. Haha yes it is astounding the various views you get on American wars/independence/4th of July/Civil War/etc here in the UK. I would say it's quiet a mixed reception here. However, I still rest on my laurels: where would the world be without McDonald's? I mean really. Despite obesity the world over, it has made the world a happier place. I rest my case.
    And you're awesome too. x