Recently a writer, speaking on Radio 4 stated that all writers were ‘deeply damaged’ individuals, and ‘needed to be’ if there writing were to be any good.

The assertion raises a lot of questions. That ‘deeply’ is a key one. How deep is your damage? How deep does it ‘need’ to be. I’m reluctant to accept the idea that an ‘undamaged’ person has nothing to tell me, nor that they might not be able to articulate it sufficiently well. When I think about it though, I wonder if any human can be undamaged entirely: I wonder if being human is about how we deal with the damage, unintended and intended, inflicted upon us by the activity of living.

I can see how knowledge of that damage, or ignorance of it, might lead us to write. Something out of balance spills over in the need to tell somebody else, or in the need to be seen to be telling, or in the need to tell ourselves. Narrative therapy is recognised as a way of helping the traumatised to move on successfully into their own futures, and don’t we all rehearse the narratives of our lives until we have one fit to live with, fit to have lived with?

Narratives like this are often, perhaps always, about the past, which is when the damage was done – fear of future damage is just another symptom of past damage one supposes! Stories can be speculations about that damage, even when neither we, nor our readers, recognise the fact. And perhaps, even unrecognised, those narratives can help to repair such damage. We shore up our own crumbling lives by telling stories about other ones; by telling stories we, and our readers, do not realise are not entirely imaginary.

On the other hand, despite what we might reply to an interviewer’s questioning, we know that much of what we write is the mangled, disguised, re-structured, and above all distanced, narrative of our own damaged lives.

Here’s some collateral damage from BHD and Me:

TalkingtoOwlsBFB cover
12 more essays on short stories and their writers