Due to the untimely demise of one of my characters, I was in mourning and could therefore not submit the story on time.
This is a real note I sent years ago. A colleague had entered my name for a short story competition by the British Council. I was not terribly enthusiastic about such events, but since it required imagining, it was par for the course. I thought nothing about it and since I was not accustomed to writing for a reason, I wove the words at a leisurely pace.
A tap on my shoulder and a thick envelope served as reminders that I paid no attention to. The date of submission was gone. I folded the sheets of paper and put them in the envelope – the address and stamps were ready. My friends were still enthusiastic. I quickly grabbed a page from my diary and wrote down the note:
“Due to the untimely demise of one of my characters I was in mourning and could therefore not submit the story on time.”
What else could I say? I am not good with formal letters. Besides, it was succinct and happened to be the truth. The cat in the story had died. Obviously, I had killed it. Yet, its death was a departure, a turning point.
Recently, an Indian media house gave an award to a novel and the jury used a curious phrase for its choice: one of the reasons was “for its non-judgmental attitude to the characters”. How does a writer not judge a character when s/he has created it? This is not immaculate conception. You sweat over it, love it and get suffused in it, for however brief a time. The judgement lies in the nature of the relationship. The writer is the initiator and woos the character. It is possible that the character might mirror the writer. Introspection is also judgement. You are pronouncing a verdict on your thoughts and feelings.
Any objectivity would be forced. The character is because you are.
Back to my old story, I had written it for myself. In those days, there was no audience I was seeking or speaking to.
A few days later, rather uncharacteristically, I got a note from the British Council. It said, and I will rely on memory and promise not to exaggerate, that indeed I had missed the date of submission and rules would not permit my work for consideration. However, my accompanying note was rather interesting and caused much amusement and they could not but let me know that although the story would not be included in the competition, it was noticed.
I wondered whether dead cats could lick the cream.
(c) Farzana Versey