While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Gallipoli Sensation

This time a week ago I was standing at the New Zealand Memorial on Chunuk Bair (Çanak Bayırı). In all, me and my four travel companions spent an afternoon visiting the various memorials on the Gallipoli Peninsula. My reaction at the time was somewhere between the Kiwi history student who was quickly reduced to tears by the reality of the landscape (“It’s such a small hill. Why should so many die for such a hill?”) and my German friends who admitted the significance of this particular campaign was lost on them. I tried to explain how Gallipoli (or as the Turks call it: Çanakkale Savaşları) was important because it provided one of the founding legends of three new nations (NZ, Australia, Turkey), even if so much of this was built on rhetoric and idealism, then and now.

Minor aside: Having lived in both NZ and Australia, I’ve seen what the ANZAC story has transmuted into in the space of 90 years. Australia with its diggers and mateship, its live telecasts of Dawn Services from State capitals, followed by rock concerts on the beach and/or a beer and a game of two-up down the RSL. New Zealand seems to have had less buzz-words passed down through the years, and there is less of a circus around April 25th (at least there was the last time I lived in NZ… these things change, huh).

That afternoon in Gallipoli I posed for photos on ANZAC Cove (not sure what sort of facial expression to wear) and with the massive statue of Atatürk, took plenty of photos of my own, read all the information panels, stared at the blueness of the sky and sea a few times and thought wordless thoughts - - and then it was over. Another experience for the travel blog. Another box ticked.

But there is a slow-burning significance of this afternoon which I am still trying to make sense of. There is something beyond the tales of nationhood, military manoeuvres, and even the loss of individual life which persists, lingers in my thoughts. I don’t know what it is — I guess a week is not long enough to provide the necessary perspective — but there is something which brings the tears close when I read about the battles on Wikipedia when I ostensibly visited for the correct Turkish spelling of Chunuk Bair. Something made me sit down and write about it now.

This feeling, of being in the midst of a slowly coalescing meaning, is a gift in itself. It is something I have probably experienced before — though I cannot finger a specific example now — but it is something I have written about. Or more correctly, it is the state one of the characters in the first draft (2006) of Novel A finds himself in. Of not quite knowing the What or the Why of his emotions, just knowing where these feelings are coming from. For Mike, it is a past relationship. For me, it is Gallipoli.

So I will take this strong-but-muddled state of emotion I find myself in and twist it into something fit for an off-beat love story. What might have been a character-building moment for myself, I will use to (re)build my fictional character. That is what being a writer is. There is autobiography in all fiction; there is fiction in every life. Writing is forgetting about these distinctions for periods of furious typing.

But Gallipoli was one afternoon of a six day stay in Türkiye. I will also be using my time at the beach to help me write the second half of a stalled short story (though the beach David Leon visits will need to be in Ecuador). And there may be more stories or poems which grow from watching one of Turkey’s insane comebacks in Euro2008 or visiting a mosque. I will just have to wait. Like my Gallipoli sensation, what’s really worth writing about isn’t always clear until much later on.

1 comment:

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