I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I have been going through old files, both electronic and physical, recently. Mostly this has been to make sure the copies of works I am sending off are indeed the latest definitive, edited copies. Sometimes it is because I am looking for those copies that I know I have made but they don’t appear to be in the correct folder for some arcane reason. But occasionally it has just been because I found an old USB drive lurking with no indication of what is one it.
I’m always hopeful when I slot one of these drives into the computer and flick through the folders and files that I may have written a bestseller of some description and forgotten it. You know how you do; it’s late, you’ve been dotting the Is and crossing the Ts on the next Harry Potter, John Le Carré, Lee Child or perhaps a literary masterpiece that is going to make War and Peace look like an Alistair MacLean knock off. You hit save and go to bed nursing your cocoa. The next morning it’s kids to school, maybe off to work or a school governors’ meeting, come home, cook, homework with the kids, watch a film with your spouse/partner/significant other, and then what was it you were going to do next? Put the cat out? Bins? That reminds me, bin night tonight. And before you know where you are its five years later and you are about to experience the greatest discovery since the unwrapping of Tutankhamen. (not original – ‘since the unwrapping of Tutankhamen, only twice as ‘orrible’ I am sure was from a Tony Hancock sketch but as I can’t find it on the internet I may steal it (include it as an homage).
It hasn’t happened yet, but I live in hope. So when I opened a folder called rather too plainly for my liking ‘Story Ideas’ I had some hopes, but not overly so. When I saw a file labelled ‘Fire destroying’ I was however genuinely intrigued. It’s not often a file name leaves me totally blank. Normally there is a quick flash of recognition and perhaps excitement as the memory of the rudimentary outline of the idea flicker across the old synapses. But this was one such occasion. Fire destroying sounded ominous if a little lacking in syntactical coherence. Only one thing for it.
Fire destroying/destroyed (?) artefacts of great value/antiquity/personal history in warehouse fire/destruction/accident/natural catastrophe
My possessions stored and went up in flames, books, family possessions heirlooms. Sense of both loss and catharsis. Didn’t have to make difficult decisions about what to keep, what to get rid of, how to get rid of them. Avoided the guilt of destroying good things, selling things I knew had been precious to my father and mother and grandparents.
Is it possible to use this situation/personal ambivalence to what appears at first sight a horrible event in a bigger picture story or should the small scale personal loss be a mirror for things like the loss of the great library at Alexandria?
Someone with goods in store has dream about the fire at the library of Alexandria and wakes to receive a phone call about the loss of their goods in a warehouse fire?
More about Alexandria?
Ivan the Terrible’s library?
Not a fully formed movie script, Costa Prize winner or Richard and Judy after thought then. But intriguing nonetheless. Alexandria was nothing new, the story of the first (?) major library in the world, including of course all those masterpieces of the esoteric arts, destroyed and what if any saved dispersed throughout the ancient world has sparked my imagination and many other writers before me. Hunts for the original Clavicule of Solomon which spawned all the Renaissance copies/forgeries abound. Egyptian books of the dead and more, Sumerian codices etc. But let’s be honest, most aren’t literature in any shape or form and although I like a good hokey ancient mystery/horror it feels like overly tilled thin dusty soil.
But Ivan the Terrible’s Library? I didn’t remember writing this note. Nor did I remember as I read it what on earth it was. To Wikipedia! I do pay a few quid occasionally to keep it going. Yes I am that one person who falls for Jimmy Wales’ recurring pleas for a couple of quid (well a tenner these days). Having stumped up the cash recently I was less than enthused with the entry for Ivan’s book box.
It wasn’t his, it was about 800 books and it may never have existed. Not the most promising of starts! There was also the problem that it is the subject, not just in Wikipedia I may say, indeed probably least of all in that, to that alarm bell ringing phrase ‘It is said that…’ with a good helping of ‘It is believed to have been…’ and not a little ‘scholars have suggested…’, without any hint as to who any of these sayers, believers or suggesters actually are.
The good thing about this is that you can fairly comfortably make up anything you like about this as a result. There’s the ‘possibility’ that Ivan the Terrible added to the collection of his grandmother (assuming it existed in the first place including Chinese scripts. The problem of course is that people already have made a lot up – see Chinese scripts for a start and one wonders about coming up with a satisfying melange of scary possibilities and reality when the reality is so thin to start with.
I remain intrigued however. The trick with these things is not to fall down the rabbit hole of research and end up writing a history book cum esoteric primer. Given there is virtually no history of the ‘library’ I may find it easier to avoid that particular labyrinth than usual.