Thursday, 2 October 2008

Re: Research

I have currently just finished reading: Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote, Penguin, 1993: ISBN 0 14 018702 2

I have been reading Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's and this morning woke early, 4.30 or so, to find myself thinking about Capote. So I wiki'd him - here.

Capote is one of those authors I was vaguely aware of when I was growing up; the murder of the Clutter family, which inspired In Cold Blood, happened in my second year at preparatory school and the story was seralised in the New Yorker in my penultimate year at college when I was seventeen. However, I never read him till recently.

Capote claimed somewhere that he had 94% memory retention. After reading his reported diction of Holly Golightly, I can believe it. It is dispiriting for clumsy a writer as myself to find oneself in front of a master who can define a character so precisely merely through the manner in which they speak. It is also a lesson.

The lesson is research.

Some time ago there was an excellent documentary on Annie Prouix that followed her for a year as she researched and wrote what was to become The Old Ace in the Hole (which I have yet to read). Her original idea was to write of the men who maintain the wind sail water pumps in Texas, itinerant individuals as needs be and, consequently, people she never actually caught up with. However she spent a useful six months commuting from Vermont to Texas and the result of her researches proved to be a commentary on the industrialisation of pig farming. (I may not have the exact facts, memory being false.) The scene I remember is of her assembling the mass of material she had accumulated as a result of her investigations on her desk preparatory to her writing. (For a wittily damning review of the book, go here.)

I hadn't realised till I read the Wikipedia information - unreliable I accept though the piece on Capote seems very full - the extent to which Capote had travelled. It brought to mind Greene's life, another writer with itchy feet. And, of course, Capote famously spent four years researching In Cold Blood.

I have spent four minutes researching my current project and I am beginning to see it for what it is, a typical first novel. In other words, I have relied heavily on local knowledge, local geography, plus personal circumstance mixed with what I fondly think of as a hyper-active imagination. Capote was criticised for being less than objective in his writing of the slaughter of the Clutter family, criticisms I personally believe naïve despite the fact the author claimed it to be an accurate report, but he did what an author should do; he distanced himself from his story and attempted to write his account objectively.

I am not going to dismiss my tale out of hand. I will complete it but I can now put it into perspective so if it fails, it fails.

1 comment:

liz fenwick said...

Thanks for the link to this post......I'm now let's see writing my fourth book since I began writing fiction after at twenty plus year gap - what have I learnt? Writing is harder than I remember and I am still alzt at research but it's easier now with the internet...I also know my limitations - a capote I will never ber nor will ever try :-)