Strangers

https://unbound.com/books/twice-the-speed-of-dark

“Filigree ghost patterns of love and grief had crept across Anna’s hollowed insides, like lichen, like salt crystals blooming on the innards of a calcified cave.”                                                   Twice the Speed of Dark, chapter one

My funding has got to 64% almost entirely at the hands of friends and family and people who know me. I am stunned by the good will and generosity. It leaves me with 36% to find, mostly from people who will only be interested because they like the sound of the book rather than they want to support its writer. It has always been clear to me that this point would come, I just thought it would come later and be a much much bigger chunk of the total. So I feel in a very good position to face a somewhat daunting task.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to make my book, which features a lot of death, sound more appealing. It is, it turns out, impossible to describe one’s own book as uplifting or life-affirming without feeling a little bit disgusted with oneself, however much of a handy short-cut that would turn out to be. But it would also be slightly inaccurate.

I am not quite sure how I would describe the positive feeling that Twice the Speed of Dark may hopefully provide. But here is where it originates. Before I knew I wanted to write books, I was an artist. One day, thinking about the discrepancy between the way the news reported the deaths that occurred during the Boston Marathon and those that occurred with grinding regularity every other day in Afghanistan and Iraq, I came up with the idea of writing, in as close to real time as I could manage, portraits for the people from those places who only appeared in the news as a tally of casualties. So as an art project I started writing a blog, where I would take a news event, time and date, number of casualties, and write a short portrait of each of them, so that I might understand, in a way that the news didn’t explain, what their death might mean.

I kept at it for a couple of months. It was often sad and a little gruelling, even though I didn’t get any where near to covering all of the killings that happened. But what it also did was awaken a huge sense of love and empathy for the strangers around me. The first time it hit me I was going down the long escalator at Victoria underground station. I was idly looking at the people coming up in the opposite direction and it hit me hard, these ordinary people, with their rich and varied lives, they would be the ones hidden in that cold tally of deaths.

Love for a stranger is a curious thing. By definition it has to be unconditional. Perhaps it is a love that remains powerless, I am not sure what it would compel me to sacrifice. But at that moment, feeling a surge of connection to my fellow travellers, knowing with all of my heart that we are the same whatever differences life had made of us, it felt like a strong and mighty good thing. I just don’t know what handful of words describe that feeling and how I would incorporate it into a tempting sales pitch.

This art project became Twice the Speed of Dark, and it is Anna, the book’s central character who writes the portraits in an act of caring and accounting for the lives of distant strangers. This love for strangers is part of what helps Anna to free herself from the burdens of grief.

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