No undiscovered countries

The room is stifled by shut blinds and low lamplight, a puffball of used tissues bellies out from a waste basket, and silver casings that held white pellets of Brufen lie spent on a side table.

Have I set the scene? Yes, some sort of virus struck a few days ago, leaving me feeling I’d been run over by a bus.

I have, to explain the introduction above, recently finished reading She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson. Primarily guidance on how to incorporate body language, props, and scene-setting into written dialogue to strengthen it and make it more realistic (i.e. what are your characters doing while they talk?), this short book also reminds the writer how to ‘anchor’ each scene’s location early on, selecting two or three details to create a picture in the reader’s mind. My review is on Goodreads which should feed into the blog below (the feed works a bit sporadically).

Could I see beauty in a virus?

Anyway, I am on the mend but still struggling with the necessity of having to rest, facing dead time when there’s so much I must do, and want to do. Probably I should have taken the opportunity to do something mind enhancing, such as sharpening my skills for observation and detailed description. Fatigued in body but fairly alert in mind, I did some editing of a first draft I have written at one point but felt guilty doing so when I’d had to take a couple of days off work.

Expanding on this theme, I note the words below of two great writers who have pondered on the effects of severe and recurrent illness on their creativity.

In her 1926 essay On Being Ill, Virginia Woolf begins by saying:
“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view… it is strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

Woolf evidently found in the midst of frequent sickness something creatively liberating, altering of perspective, even otherworldly, noting that “Something happens in my mind.”

Author Hilary Mantel spent long periods suffering debilitating and painful endometriosis (initially misdiagnosed as ‘stress caused by over ambition’!1), describing “the unlit terrain of sickness, a featureless landscape of humiliation and loss,” a horrific episode of misdiagnosis and devastating treatment that she described as being “mauled by medical procedures”. This did, ultimately, lead to Mantel beginning “writing in an attempt to seize the copyright in myself,” her writing serving to take back control and make sense of her world.

Back in the world of the ordinary non-genius and a trivial bout of ‘flu, I may not have been able to find creative side benefits in the isolation of the sickbed, but there is a practical bright side. I have had a decent amount of sleep for a change, caught up on some reading, and sought repair with juices and healthy food. So perhaps I should take the philosophical view of writer A. L. Kennedy who, whilst recovering from labyrinthitis, wrote: “I can hardly complain… it fills in the time I would usually spend overworking.”

Prodromou. A. Navigating Loss in Women’s Contemporary Memoir. 2015. Macmillan.
Steve Buissinne and quimono via Pixabay

17 thoughts on “No undiscovered countries

  1. Elizabeth Barrett Browning always come to my mind as a writer who spent her life languishing on a couch with mystery illnesses. Whisked away romantically by Robert Browning to sunny Italy she apparently found some relief. I guess many women with chronic or undianosed illnesses would love to be whisked away to romance and fame.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Or indeed many women with no illness at all… No offence, but I also wonder what effects taking a ton of opiates to medicate illnesses had on some writers ‘ work, such as EBB.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmmm, i believe that if i never went blind, i’d have never decided to become an author.
    So should i wish you well?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Interesting how one life-changing event can lead to another.
      I am much better with what is a minor virus, thank you!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Sounds like an interesting read. Your writings are always so researched and anecdotal. Love reading them. And hope you are feeling better

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very kind, thank you for taking the time to read, and bon voyage.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t read Virginia Woolf’s ‘On being ill’ before, however the thoughts she conjures do make absolute sense, how could one ever write about life in its entirety if all you ever referred to were the happy events?………… The problem comes does the reader enjoy reading of say depression? I’d suggest yes if the piece is well written.

    Hope you are 🙂 feeling better sooon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well So old certainly spoke from rich inner experience, including depression. But yes, light and shade are both needed, in life, so in literature.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I stumbled on this while waiting for my time as Keeper of the Village Cold to end. Good timing. So far, I haven’t found it creatively useful. Hope you’re better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, mine is simply a family legacy; I don’t need to keep its flame alive for the entire community.
      Hope you’re feeling better too. Another day on the road back to health and creativity all round.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like a plan. All indications here are that I’ll live through this an emerge pretty much the same as I went in. Best wishes.


  6. Sounds like an interesting read! And hope you are feeling better..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You’ve done well with the opening lines.
    The book sounds like a great reminder to open up the world to the reader’s imagination.
    I hope you feel better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love Woolf. Each of her words weighs on your heart and suffocates you with its density. Her poems, reflective of her long-standing depression are haunting to the point of, sometimes, me having been afraid to open and read them.
    And wonder how captivating the beauty of flu virus is, very true that visuals are deceptive
    Get well soon, Libre 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a wonderful description of the effect Woolf has. How that profound and darkly haunting nature of her work stays with one. Some writing does take stamina to read (goodness knows what it takes to write!), particularly ‘quality’ literary, writing that makes one think rather than entertains alone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly, Libre. A good work must enlighten and entertain.
        How many writers are there, in today’s world, who satisfy the cerebral quench of the readers?
        And take the quality of books shortlisted and being awarded with renowned awards like The Booker, nowadays. The 19 th and 20 th century used to be the heyday of literature .
        Nice talking to u, get well soon 🙂


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