January 25, 2021

A Letter from an Ex-student…

On this wintry Monday in lockdown, here is something to lift the spirits in the form of a letter from an ex-student to one of our authors, Linda Hurcombe.

“I am writing to let you know that I finished your book today, “The Jesse Tree,” and it was a true delight. I was thrilled to read your author’s note to learn about the circumstances around writing the book, the challenges you have had the strength to come through, and the research you did to make the fictional aspects so realistic. I heard your voice throughout the book, and I miss you and your amazing literature classes, and your energy and patience and kindness. It all came through in this labour of love… Having two children, an older son and a younger daughter, those words hit very close to home. Your characters were so beautifully developed, and, oh, I could go on and on. Let me just congratulate you on sticking with this project and bringing it back to life when you had put it aside. It was a pure pleasure, and it felt nice to be connected to you again. Don’t tell anyone — or go right ahead — but you were my favourite teacher of all time. You got me to read whole novels when my social life mattered so much and other academic pursuits really fell by the wayside. I told my husband that I read every book you ever assigned from cover to cover. And then I chuckle and think, you had so many students. How can you remember them all? I remember you.”

I loved reading this letter, and I can imagine it meant a lot to Linda too. It is unsurprising to know the long-lasting effects that teachers can have on their students, throughout their lives. I know that I for one have a few whom I will always feel similarly about. In the Author’s Notes that the letter-writer mentioned, I particularly love the following quote from Linda about the process of writing and the characterisation in her novel.

 “It has been more fun than I imagined, not least because fiction needs to be realistic, unlike reality, which is often so bizarre as to be inconceivable. There is something in me in every character in this story, villains included. Otherwise it’s the irresistible and ageless alchemy of making stuff up.”

The concept that reality is sometimes so bizarre that it is unconceivable definitely struck a chord. Never more than now has this idea resonated so much. Who could have imagined that a pandemic would have unfolded in quite the way that it has – some of the events, facts and plot twists of the last 12 months would seem completely unbelievable if I’d written them as a novel. It would have an editor reaching for the red pen, I am sure. What else could be so bizarrely inconceivable? There is a truth in the idea that fiction needs to be compiled of elements of reality. In order to really identify with characters in a book, we need to see something of ourselves, or our loved ones, in them. While the world in which the story is set can be fabricated and embellished, as of course can the characters, what can make a novel so enchanting, are the elements of our own realities that we can see reflected within them. Whether incorporating the more wicked elements of our personality into the villain, or the friendships that we have seen in the relationships around us, novels can sometimes become maps of the authors themselves. And, clearly this student felt the connection between the text and the teacher that she knew and loved.

By Hannah Hilditch

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