I’ve just spent several days with a group of friends enjoying the French countryside. On Saturday, there was a plan to go to a ‘Go-Ape’ type place in a local forest, where the idea is to follow a kind of obstacle course – including zip-wires, tight-ropes, wooden logs – suspended between the trees at least twenty feet off the ground. We have one near where I live and I have never been tempted. I was no more tempted in France, so I said I would sit it out (preferably with a cup of tea in hand) while the others got on with it.
However, one of the women talked me into doing it. Her main argument was that she wanted someone as inexperienced as her to go round with. Always having been the last to be picked for anything sporty at school, I felt 14 again and suddenly included in the ‘gang’. Her secondary argument was that as a writer I should be open to all experiences, even ones I am not attracted to. What is there to inspire a writer but experience?
My life has been relatively eventful and varied, however, I am childless by choice, I have not killed anyone, and I experience life as a white woman. Yet in my novel, The Art of the Imperfect (http://goo.gl/z7HFgz) I write about post-natal depression, murder and one of my main characters is a black man. I can only imagine the unknown feelings and responses through extrapolation of my own experiences, plus what I have researched; through reading, listening and observing. I have to believe at base our common humanity connects us more than it divides us, especially in terms of our emotional terrain.
I think it is highly unlikely I will write about someone completing a ‘Go Ape’ route in the pouring rain. On the other hand, I could now write with some alacrity about fear for physical safety, about being presented with an obstacle which is both psychologically and physically demanding, feeling paralysed and then doing it anyway.
What kept me going was my friends’ encouragement and the thought that the only way to get this over and done with was to keep pushing forward. Putting one foot (word) in front of the other while being scared of falling and public ridicule is perhaps good training for any writer.
I wish I could say there was a moment of enjoyment during the whole experience. There was not. Not until I got to ground level and my friend and I hugged and yelped, ‘We did it!’
Any thoughts, fellow writers, do we have to experience something to write about it?