Writing Big Year: Russia is tough

I’m in awe of professional historians who effortlessly glide between the archives of different countries. Me, I find it arduous enough to dig into American and British records. The former Soviet Union was amongst the most closed of societies, but even after is demise in 1991, only the briefest flowering of “real historical work” in my nuclear field occurred in the mid-90s-to-early-00s before Putin shut up the shop. The image is of a series of historical articles collected by ex-atomic-scientist Victor Sidorenko. It’s priceless in terms of disclosure but proved hard to translate and is ultra-technical rather than “here is the story of what we did.”

In the end my knowledge of how Soviet reactors came to be is not deep and is informed more by the work of better researchers than me, rather than my own work. Should I have done better? Maybe so, but I’d have needed to make many trips into Russia to find survivors and interview them, with the help of an interpreter and research assistant, and I could never justify the effort. Have I guessed “the truth”? I think so but I’ll stand ready to be corrected. All I can hope is that young Russian researchers one day tackle this fascinating local aspect of a fascinating global technological development.

Writer’s Big Year: Admiring another writer

I met Felicity Everett, as part of a writers’ lunch group, during her brief decampment to Australia. I read her prior novel, The Story of Us, and recall being most impressed by her terrific grasp of narrative control and characterisation. These are not my writerly strengths. She has a new book out now, The People at Number 9, and exactly the same thoughts went through my head as I powered through it. In this difficult year of reading, I tend to find fault with every book I open, but not this one. I read it in two days and gasped with admiration: if only I can, one day, write this well!

Writing Big Year: How often do you face creative aloneness?

You’re in your shed and the gnarly piece of wood you discovered, and planned to shape into something wondrous, suddenly appears pointless. Your one-third-completed patchwork quilt on your lap, at last with time to make progress, your first and seemingly final thought is, “what drivel shit.” At your beachside resort, day one on your novel, all you can do is tweet and scoff chocolate, a void inside your chest. For anyone making, learning or striving, these moments of terror cannot be shared. They’re yours, yours alone.

One step into work, the actual doing, and the terror vanishes, not even a memory. Otherwise . . .

Writing Big Year: Reading better

Take a look at this Farnham Street blog post. Fascinating. I have a system for taking notes in relation to my current book, but as for general reading, I no longer read hardcopy books, so marginalia becomes a different concept. I do use Evernote, I do note highlights in ebooks as I read, but I’ve no systematic sensible repository for such digital marginalia. Thinking about it now, I shall have to come up with something. It makes sense.