Friday, 12 January 2018

Writing - Do you have to bleed to write?

I have heard from a variety of sources that to be a good writer you need to bleed - that is, suffer at a personal level in your life. Of course, I don't subscribe to that because what is a major gash to one person is scarcely a pinprick to another. In the history of writers you come across people, as with all people they lived lives, and in doing so had highs and lows. Charles Dickens had to write to make money in an attempt to clear his father's debts. Dickens senior spent time in debtors prison. Some writers were difficult in their attitudes and behaviours but the same could be said of plumbers and electricians. The fact is that if you possess the writing gene you will write, badly or otherwise.

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Mary Shelley

This week I have read an article about Frankenstein's creator, Mary Shelley.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
After Wollstonecraft's death less than a month after her daughter Mary was born, Mary was raised by Godwin, who was able to provide his daughter with a rich, if informal, education, encouraging her to adhere to his own liberal political theories. When Mary was four, her father married a neighbour, with whom, as her stepmother, Mary came to have a troubled relationship.
In 1814, Mary began a romance with one of her father's political followers, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married. Together with Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley left for France and travelled through Europe. Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy's child. 

It was while this group were abroad that  Frankenstein was begun and soon completed within nine months, but it was Shelley's condition and morals that came into question in this pre-Victorian era. She was only sixteen when she set off on her European adventure and when they returned penniless Mary was shocked that friends and family didn't welcome her home with open arms. At that time having affairs was for the gentry but even after Percy Shelley's first wife killed herself because of her being abandoned he wasn't allowed custody of his own children. Advocating free love in the early nineteenth century was not going to win friends and influence people.

In fact Mary was a kind caring wife and mother but tended to be misread by many as self-willed and radical in her views. As a result, when her husband continued to have other affairs she received little support or sympathy as she was reaping what she had sowed. 

Mary was widowed aged 24 in 1822 and it had been a meer eight years since she'd eloped with Percy but she was still being ostracised. Attempts were made to remove her son from her custody, she couldn't get writing work as a 'fallen' woman. In fact she had suffered loss many times including three of her four children. Loss was not uncommon in the early 1800s. This struggle went on for the whole of her life and she continued to strive to work as a writer which she managed but without huge success.

The fact that she is remembered for Frankenstein is slightly unfortunate but a reflection of her nature in that her early career was spent supporting her father's writing and her husband's poetry. When she was writing her big historical dramas there had been a change in fashion but she also contributed to biographical encyclopaedias.

In both the case of Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens there is an indication of what is necessary to become a good writer. They both worked hard, continually and for many years to achieve success. Some would say there is no secret just 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

God Bless

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