Monday, 5 July 2010

Of scratches and corrections




I've been meaning to post these pictures since last month -- ancient graffiti from the pillars at the entrance to the mausoleum at Bowood -- but tonight seems to be the right moment, as I emerge from what I think -- hope -- might be the last set of corrections to the final proof of my Chanel book. Every book I've ever written has required lengthy revisions, but this one feels by far the most demanding, in part because of the huge weight of research and evidence to be assimilated from various different archives. (At this point, I should admit that my closest friends would doubtless remind me that I felt similarly wrung out during the final corrections of 'Daphne'; but this Chanel biography has the added complications -- and compensations -- of the inclusion of photographs, illustrations, letters, and much else besides). Anyway, you've probably already guessed that there have been a few gloomy nights merging into anxious early mornings when I feel gripped by dread, and worry whether anyone will notice how much concentrated work has gone into this book? And then I wonder, wouldn't it be better if readers didn't notice, if the endless drafts seemed simply to disappear into one seamless, apparently effortless whole? (Probably the latter, though who knows what the critics will think... no, help, am trying not to think about those as darkness falls, otherwise will curl up and shrink into small ball of fright.)
I wonder, also, what it is that compels us to excavate the past; to read between the lines of the testaments of the dead, to try -- and try again -- to catch the echoes of their silenced voices. Why keep following the trail of a ghost?
Not that we necessarily need answers; for it is, after all, the journey that matters most.
Anyway, that probably sounds more downcast than it should; for the evening is a lovely one, and I've just been watering the garden. Its borders are a little past their midsummer best -- the roses were glorious last week, twined with honeysuckle and jasmine -- but still scented and abundant, amidst self-sown valerian and forget-me-nots. Such solace to be had in the small joys of wild green things, after grappling with print manuscripts, with the black and white weight of words.

18 comments:

kairu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kairu said...

I posted a comment, earlier, but it seems to have disappeared like the sun dropping behind the mountains.

Summer is finally here, Justine; the afternoon was sunny and warm, unlike last night when we shivered and froze while watching the 4th of July fireworks. My boss gave me a bouquet of honeysuckle from her garden, and their scent lingered in my car for days.

I, for one, have been very much looking forward to your Chanel book. She had that ability to continuously evolve while always staying true to some inner voice, like the poet Denise Levertov whose poetry, as Milosz put it, changed over time, but "preserved the same personal tone." Like the director Louis Malle, whose films have no singular style but maintain a kind of clarity of vision.

There is a difference between so fixedly looking at the past that you forget to live, and looking back just long enough to catch hold of something you want to carry with you into your present and future. What is that line from "The 21 Balloons"? "Not new things but new ways"? Or was it the other way around?

Karen, Surrey said...

My garden too is just past it's best, but probably like yours there's more to come. Japanese anenomes, golden rod, tall daisy types etc, hydrangas. We have to have a period of waiting before the next good bit I guess. A bit like you're feeling now. A period of exhausting work, dull and boring before the exhilarating final launch. I am looking forward to the launch of the book.

enid said...

Do we not excavate the past in the hope that one day we too shall be excavated and remembered ?

CATHERINE DANIEL said...

Reminds me of the graffiti on the walls of St Cuthbert's cave in Northumberland dating from 1700s. One somehow thinks of graffiti as a modern 'blight' but not so.

enid said...

WE EXCAVATE THE PAST IN THE HOPE THAT ONE DAY SOMEONE WILL EXCAVATE OUR PAST AND REMEMBER US.

Justine Picardie said...

What wonderful messages from everyone. Thank you so much. I feel teetering on the edge of an ending and waiting for another beginning... that unsettling moment when you know that you have no choice but to let go of a book, even though it has not yet let go of you.

Knitting Out Loud said...

We are all looking forward to your book!

My husband and I recently decided to transcribe about 30 letters we have from a soldier fighting for the Union in the American Civil War. We thought we'd do 2, but couldn't stop. He describes seeing President and Mrs. Lincoln, fighting at Gettysburg (50,000 men died in 3 days), marching through the South. I thought of you, Justine, because for a day we were totally immersed in another life and time. It was exhausting but exhilarating. Thank goodness we don't have to write about it too!

I feel we excavate the past to see what it can teach us about the present. Or maybe as a relief from the present.

Gondal-girl said...

Great post Justine - I have that Last Rose of Summer song in my head - your garden sounds lovely. I am very glad the labour is almost over for the Chanel book, we all look forward to standing around it and giving it our blessings. Hope you are well

Justine Picardie said...

The soldiers' letters sound intriguing -- a story of their own. How did you come across them?
As for Chanel: I can't wait for my blogging friends to see the finished book. I must find out if there is a way to get you the earliest copies...

enid said...

Please oh please get us early copies I can't wait

Knitting Out Loud said...

We would be honored to have a copy of your book! Will you do a book tour?

The letters were given to my husband many years ago because of his interest in the Civil War, so the soldier is no relation (and he had no children we discovered, thank you internet).

Young at Heart said...

have you ever seen the ancient graffiti in Luxor amongst the ruins....along the lines of 'Albert woz ere 1822'.... brilliant!!

香昱信張君林 said...

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新順 said...

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柏強 said...

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Lazywell said...

Sadly haven’t seen the Luxor graffiti. But it’s interesting that what was probably regarded as disrespectful and irksome at the time (and in the case of the 1820 inscription at Bowood perhaps rather rude) is now a matter of genuine historical or archaeological interest.

Then of course there are the maxims roughly carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – “Know thyself” and “Nothing to excess” – which underlay much of ancient Greek philosophy and still have a resonance today.

Meanwhile Banksy’s remarkable graffiti-based images go for tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds, while I saw the other day that this hapless fan picked up an £80 fine for his own piece of street art:
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23853147-police-hand-out-pound-80-penalty-to-banksy-fan-for-pavement-sketch.do

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