Since I began revising my book last November, so much has happened. I spotted this post on Advice to Writers on Twitter not so many weeks ago. It come from Brenda Wineapple. And it really does sum up my experience of writing a biography.
‘As a biographer you’re in a strange relationship with a person
who can’t answer back, but is always answering back.’
And this is the crux of it. They are not there. You are writing intimately about someone you have never met. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to climb right inside their lives and their minds, they never stop talking to you.
A new piece of information, a slant on a fact, visiting somewhere they went. Every experience rounds their character and their life just a little bit more. And no matter how small that piece of information might be, it is fundamental to your understanding of them.
So many things which made no sense to me when I wrote my first edition are now as clear as the basic facts I’ve always known. Understanding Tita’s culture in Venice, and reading the multitudes of letters by his protectorates through out his life, have filled in gaps so distinctly and so vividly that it was almost as if he was telling me the story himself. Learning Italian has been a corner stone of my understanding of him, belated though it has been.
It’s invigorating to be in tune with someone who was once so real and is now little more than a name in a book. But it is a name in the books of so many other names in books – Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Benjamin Disraeli. Because whatever he was, his DNA is still here and I suppose that is a hingepin and what makes it so real.