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Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’

“War by all classes of our countrymen has brought us nearer together, has opened men’s eyes, and removed misunderstandings on all sides. It has made it, I think, impossible that ever again, at all events in the lifetime of the present generation, there should be a revival of the old class feeling which was responsible for so much, and, among other things, for the exclusion for a period, of so many of our population from the class of electors. I think I need say no more to justify this extension of the franchise.”

These were the words of the Home Secretary, George Cave (Conservative) in introducing the “Representation of the People Act” in 1918. Millions of those who had fought and died during the First World War did not have the right to vote for the government that had sent them to fight – neither did any of the women who had kept the country running for the last four years, while mourning lost loves, husbands, brothers and sons. This Act, at last, gave the vote to all men over the age of 21, though only to women aged over 30.

2014 was the centenary of the beginning of World War I and was rightfully commemorated. Yet we were told by a Government Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove that:-

“Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect, at best, an ambiguous attitude to this country  and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage … Historians have skilfully demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order.”

I can’t think of anyone who doubts for a moment that these men and women fought, and worked, and died for “king and country,” nor that they demonstrated “patriotism, honour and courage.” Mr. Gove says they were fighting for a “Noble Cause” and that “the conflict has, for many been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer, and Blackadder as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.”

Yet there is every reason to believe that the ruling “elite” were out-of-touch. We need only to remember the historic context, the words of the Home Secretary (above) – the “freedom” that people had fought for was a freedom they did not enjoy in their own country. The “western liberal order” had seen fit to withhold from them for generations the right to elect their own government. It had resisted at every turn the struggle for what we now take as basic human rights. Every movement, every rebellion, every attempt at uniting to seek universal suffrage, or better living and working conditions had been ruthlessly suppressed by the “western liberal order” in Great Britain – The Luddites, the Chartists, the Suffragettes – all ignored and victimised.

We are so quick to honour the handful of politicians who swam against the tide and helped secure universal suffrage, rights to basic sanitation, education and healthcare; yet we seem to forget that the vast majority of politicians (of all parties) had opposed such progress at every step. We extol those good old “Victorian Values,” and the age of innovation, while forgetting its dependence on the use of child-labour, the disempowerment of women, the terrible slums, and the dangerous working conditions that the majority of people endured for much of the 19th century. We remember the names of those who fought for the abolition of the slave trade, but forget the names of those whose wealth was built upon it, and who were compensated for its loss, or the many who treated their employees, “free” or not, as slaves.

Our democracy is something to be proud of, something to cherish. Many of the rights we may often take for granted are denied to millions around the world. Yet those freedoms were not a gift from enlightened politicians, but were hard-won by generations of “ordinary” people in the face of often bloody resistance from governments they had no part in electing. To my mind it’s that “honour and courage” we should remember – It’s that history we should be proud of. As George Orwell said,

“The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

Don’t let the politicians change our history, it’s part of who we are – Lest we forget.

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“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.”

George Orwell

It sounds a little harsh, but anyone who writes will recognise at least some truth in what Orwell says. To an extent writing is vain, if only in having the belief that you can write something that is worth reading. It is certainly selfish. Writing is a totally absorbing activity. You can be sitting in a room surrounded by people you love, but when you are writing your mind is somewhere else and you are cut-off, in your own world. So why write?

Orwell  identified four reasons as to why writers write, and what determines how they write or what they write about. Again he didn’t mince his words:-

  •  “Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one…
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story…
  • Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  • Political purpose. Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

Having just had my first novel, “Avon Street” published, perhaps it’s an odd time to wonder why I write?  But at the moment I’m trying to publicise my book and wondering how far I want to go, and how much I’m willing to let my goals change, when all I really want to do is get on with the next book.  But family and friends keep asking how the book is doing, and it’s made think again about what people expect – and what I expect?

Much as I admire George Orwell, I think his list, perhaps intentionally (to make a point) ignores many other motives . Some writers, also feel a basic need to form bridges of communication with others to overcome the feeling of “separateness” that comes from being an individual human being. For others writing is a coming to terms with what has happened in the past.  For many, writing is a form of exploration, of challenging their own perceptions, of trying to empathise with others and to understand a complex world which sometimes makes little sense – and to define for themselves what it is to be a human being with a sense of consciousness.

Perhaps Orwell was too noble-minded to identify money  in his list of motivations, or perhaps times have changed, but it  cannot be ignored nowadays, though many see writing as a more spiritual quest, in search of the Muse, or God, or some higher purpose in our nature. For others it is a way of exploring thought processes and the relationship between conscious and unconscious mind. And let’s not forget the sheer sense of enjoyment that the process of writing can bring.

Other writers have their own definitions. Monica Dickens said,

“Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.”

Some write, because through writing they can build new worlds, worlds in which, at least for a while, they have some sense of control. As John Fowles said,

“There are many reasons why novelists write – but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world.”

There is also the question of when are you entitled to call yourself a writer. When I started writing fiction, I honestly had no interest in being published, yet as soon as I had finished the first draft of my novel it seemed pointless simply leaving it in a drawer, so I started sending it off to publishers and agents. Slowly publication became almost an obsession, and so my goals and expectations began changing. As Lee Child asked,

“If you write a book and no one reads it, is it really a book?’

Yet if you write, you are a writer and publication is often just a matter of luck or fortuitous circumstance. As Kate Mosse said,

“There’s only one difference between published and unpublished writers and it is this – the first group see their work in print on the shelves of Waterstone’s or Tesco or online at Amazon; the second group are yet to have physical evidence of the hours, weeks, years spent fashioning words into their patterns.  You are already a writer.”

Perhaps some or all of thes motives for writing (above) are common to every writer, but the strength of their influence will be different from writer to writer and they will rarely remain the same. Orwell was right when he said,

“It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time.”

Each individual writer’s motivation is complex and personal – and it changes over time as expectations change. In truth there are as many reasons for writing as there are writers – and writing will always have something new to say, or find a new way of saying it. But it seems important to remember why you started writing and what you expected then, rather than chasing new rainbows.

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