Our Marketing Assistant, Jess, discusses the relationship between history, identity and literature.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
It’s been 410 years since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament and we’re still talking about it. Granted trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament (with the king inside) is a pretty big deal, and it’s fascinating to think what Britain might have become if Fawkes had succeeded. Would it even be much different to the way it is now?
We have this idea that we must remember the important moments in history because if we do they won’t happen again. If we remember that Hitler was a bad man we’ll be able to prevent anyone like him from rising to power again, and if we remember that trying to prevent interracial marriage is just plain silly we’ll be a better society. Of course that’s not quite how the world works. Sadly there are still plenty of horrible people in politics, and it’s only in recent years – this year in the case of the United States – that gay marriage has been legalised.
Basically, we never learn, and this is true of our own histories too.
No matter who we are, where we go or what we do, we always find ourselves drawn back to our pasts; our decisions and experiences creep up on us like waves, slowly advancing until we’re caught in the tide and pulled back to something we’d forgotten, whether by accident or by choice. It could be anything from a faint whiff of perfume that reminds you of your grandmother’s old house, or a song you hear that takes you right back to your school days because it was playing everywhere and dammit now it’s stuck in your head again. You’ll be humming it for weeks.
This is particularly true of writers, or at least that’s what I’ve discovered in my experience. Authors can write a huge amount of different stories in their lifetime, but no matter how different the story is, no matter how different the characters or the setting are, there will always be those themes that authors just can’t help going back to.
It’s true of our authors, too. In Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s debut novel, Dark Mermaids, published earlier this year, our protagonist Sophia finds herself haunted by her past no matter how hard she tries to run from it. Set in Germany, the book itself is something of a link back to Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s own family history; I interviewed Anne here about her startling debut, and wasn’t at all surprised to discover that she’s working on another novel set in Germany. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Anne in person, and it’s clear from the way she talks about her writing how passionate she is about these Germany-based stories.
Francesca Rhydderch’s prize-winning debut, The Rice Paper Diaries, also draws on personal family history, and the characters in Mary-Ann Constantine’s debut, Star-Shot, just can’t help being drawn to the National Museum Cardiff, a building that is literally full of our history.
Then we have our New Stories from the Mabinogion. Our authors took the tales from The Mabinogion and placed them wherever, and whenever, they saw fit, leaving us with stories set during the Second World War and stories set in outer space. Fairy tales, folktales and legends are the first stories we’re ever introduced to, and we continue to come across them even when we might not realise it. What is Pretty Woman if not a slightly updated Cinderella story? What is The Phantom of the Opera if not yet another spin on Beauty and the Beast?
Try as we might we can’t stop returning to these old stories, whether they’re stories everyone knows or stories from our own personal histories. They just keep coming back, and all we can do is keep telling them.