Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"The Ghosts of Heaven"

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in East Kent in the South-east of England. He now divides his time between a small village near Cambridge and a remote house in the French Alps.

Sedgwick is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Printz Award (Midwinterblood), the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Blue Peter Book Award. His books have been shortlisted for over thirty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (five times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (five times). In 2011 Revolver was awarded a Printz Honor.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Ghosts of Heaven, and reported the following:
I love the concept of The Page 69 Test. I have a strange fondness for arbitrary things in general and when it comes to writing, I like arbitrary things even more. There is so much that is subjective about writing; as a writer, it is almost impossible to separate your work from your psyche, from your unconscious thought processes, and very often, as you work, decisions you make about story-telling may seem utterly arbitrary. Occasionally, they might genuinely be so, but very often they’re not. Sometimes years have to go by before you realise that a decision you took was not at all arbitrary but in fact had to be that way, for reasons of story logic, of the truth of what you were trying to do. So given that so much of writing is subjective, I like anything that even makes a stab at providing objectivity, and that’s why something that is genuinely arbitrary, or random, feels like a friend. So thank you for asking me to look at page 69 of my new book, The Ghosts of Heaven.

If it’s true that the DNA of a story runs through every page, it must also be true that some pages show it off a bit more obviously that others. The gods of writing have smiled on me, for page 69 of The Ghosts of Heaven (in the US edition) is for me one of the central ideas in the book. The book is split into four sections, each a novella in its own right, and each is a musing over the image, and meaning, of the spiral. The first part, set in the Neolithic age, is called Whispers in the Dark, in which the protagonist is a teenage girl who is on the cusp of making the link between a mark and the spoken word. When she does so she will effectively have invented writing, a step in our evolution without which civilisation could not have come to exist. The fact that she’s a teenage girl is yet again not arbitrary, nor is it some sop to those who think books for young people have can only be about young people, an idea that drives me crazy, rather it’s because I’ve been thinking for some time about the role of the teenager in our evolution – something I wrote about at length here.

Page 69 comes from the closing pages of this section of the book, in which the unnamed girl finally makes the connection. She’s unnamed very purposefully – how do we know what the names and the languages of our Neolithic ancestors were, or even sounded like? Any attempt to guess would, I felt, have been clumsy and embarrassing. In order to avoid such matters, I chose to make another deliberate decision, to write this part of the book in blank verse, to hopefully mysterious air to it, and distance us somewhat from the Modern.

So, being in verse, page 69 is fairly short, and yet it says everything I wanted to say in this part of the book. Since it’s short, here’s the whole thing:
She sees the sand by the fire-pit,
back at the camp.
She sees her stick-tip in the sand,
and now she finally knows what it means.
What it could mean,
to make a mark in the sand.

If there was a way,
she thinks.
To make a mark in the sand.
And that mark to be known by all.
And that mark to have a meaning.
A meaning known to all.
There could be different marks
for different meanings.
Then there could be a mark to mean go
and one to mean follow
and one to mean find
and one to mean help.
And then, she thinks,
there could have been a mark to mean run!
And if she had made that mark in the sand,
then her people might have seen it
and run,
and not died in the sand
by the dying fire pit.

Now that she understands,
it seems so easy.
Writing, language, speech – it’s so easy to take these things for granted, to forget that without words we would be nothing and would have nothing. It’s these things that lifted us from the bestial and that have provided us not only with civilisation, but with the most entertaining, enlightening and transcendent aspects of it.
Visit Marcus Sedgwick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue