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Who is Henry Blogg? …lest we forget (words for unsung heroes)

September 9, 2010

It is understandable, at times like this, when world events are remembered and those that have lost their lives in-service or as innocents become our present focus, to reflect our current feelings and dwell in the now.

But, as writers, we have a responsibility.

Our writing, regardless of genre, is reflective of our times. In our words we possess the power to enlighten future generations as to the state of our cultures and societies, their failures and successes, their heroes and heroines.

We have a choice.

We can follow commercial trends and write in the isolated moment of dissociated facts, or we can weave into the fabric of our narratives, stories that leverage our experiences, our knowledge, our feelings.

Exceedingly good poetry!

Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire:Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and  Tyre! Judge of the Nations, spare us yet. Lest we forget—lest we forget!

From “Recessional”, a poem by Rudyard Kipling

What would it be for our stories of vampires and ghouls to revolve around tales of heroism that are rooted in the philosophy of battles between right and wrong? What would it be for our narratives of love and endeavour to struggle against forces that seem destined, on some perennial, visceral level to frustrate our desires for peace and democracy for all?

In fiction we can build on fact. We can draw parallels in previously untold-of worlds. We can bring enlightenment to others and longevity to the past.

In 1873, John Ruskin wrote that ‘…the art is greatest which, conveys to the mind of the spectator, the greatest number of the greatest ideas…’ Writing as an art, then, has a duty to convey great ideas to its readership. It is no option, writing as an artist, to simply relay facts. We must aim to convey ideas, to create within the minds of our readers, images of realities that, while fictional, leave lasting impressions and promote the possibility of learning.

Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C Clarke

Consider the plot for a science fiction novel… An unpaid, volunteer space rescue pilot, consistently flying out on deep space rescue missions in an improbably under equipped, manually controlled, aging space shuttle. This space pilot normally shuttles his craft from moon to moon, carrying supplies between outposts. When a distress call goes out, he is first to respond. Is this something for Arthur C Clarke?

Perhaps one of the bravest and most spectacular rescue missions this pilot undertakes sees him rescue 11 crewmen from the meteor-shattered hulk of the galactic freighter Fernebo. And this on top of an earlier rescue mission that same day. In fact, the pilot himself has to battle through a meteor storm to reach the stricken wreck. By the time he pulls alongside the Fernebo, he and his small crew had been fighting the elements of deep space over nearly 14 light hours.

Such feats may have earned the rescue pilot an Intergalactic Federation Gold Medal. They become regular citations! Indeed, some twenty years later, this relentless pilot and his faithful crew are called out to the space barge Sepoy. He might even refer to this later as the worst journey in his then 24 years as a rescue Pilot. He makes several attempts to go alongside the stricken barge but it is impossible to hold his own ship in position to effect a rescue because of the solar winds and meteor showers. He decides to run his own ship onto the deck of the Sepoy. But he only has time to take of one crew member before his small ship falls away, and he has to return and repeat the dangerous manoeuvre. Both crewmen are rescued, but all, including the rescue pilot and his crew carry injuries from the event.

How would our memory of Henry Blogg be affected if Arthur C Clarke had written of such heroism in his novels?

No other lifeboat crew member has been awarded as many medals as Henry Blogg. He was awarded three Gold Medals and four Silver Medals for Gallantry. He was also awarded the George Cross and the British Empire Medal. Henry joined the crew of the Cromer lifeboat in 1894 at the age of 18. He became the Coxswain at the young age of 33 and continued in this role for 38 years, retiring in 1947 at the age of 71. During 53 years’ service, his Cromer lifeboat launched 387 times and saved 873 lives.

As I sat writing this, I remained conscious of 20 years of my own military service – a different time, a different world – and a brother who has just this month arrived in country, in Afghanistan, to commence a tour of duty with the Canadian Forces there. Respect!

My hero...

But, I am not a historian; I am a writer of fiction. So, if I am to take a lead from a fictional hero of mine, “It was a dark and stormy night…” how am I going to portray the big, heroic events of the now for future generations to gain insight and ideas from? And how might you, as a writer also, respond?  Or, as a reader, what might you expect? Do tell! 🙂

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2010 7:37 am

    Great story about Mr.Blogg, thanks so much for sharing. What an amazing man!

    • September 9, 2010 6:56 pm

      And it took this blog and your contributions to set me on the path of researching my own piece, to discover who he was, myself… I stumbled upon his story in finding a recent list of “unknown heroes” in the UK. So thanks are due to you, too! 🙂

  2. September 9, 2010 7:56 am

    Another reminder that our best fiction is partially rooted in fact. So, now the challenge is how do we portray 9/11 and its aftermath in our fiction?

    Something to make us ponder for a lifetime.

    • September 9, 2010 7:03 pm

      Well, despite the enormity of the challenge, I don’t think we should be affraid to try… I think something along the lines of a contemporary Orwellian 1984 meets Huxley’s Brave New World meets… perhaps you can think of something to add, Greg?

  3. September 11, 2010 9:56 am

    Great ideas, and images. Like you said, our challenge, as writers, is to somehow portray, in story, those facts or personal remembrances that move us. It warms my heart that your research found Henry Blogg, and now you have passed his legacy down to us as your readers. I like the fact that bringing his story to others’ consciousness means that, in a way, he will live on. It’s a cliche, of course, but it still works for me.

    I have been struck by how different we all are this week, and how the much we are all the same. How the threads of our lives intersect and diverge. And we have the best job in the whole world: telling the story.

    • September 13, 2010 5:24 pm

      Thanks, Sharon. It is the best job! Isn’t it 🙂 I just wish I had more time to devote to writing.

  4. September 12, 2010 7:30 pm

    I love fiction that is based on a true story, or true events. I’m sure somewhere along the way, someone will write a great piece based on 9/11. This makes me think of Animal Farm and the Russian Revolution. Er… that was about the Russian Revolution, right? Sorry, it’s been a while since I read it.

    • September 13, 2010 5:37 pm

      Well, you have the advantage, J.D. …I have not read Animal Farm, but it is on my list to read. I have been going back over some of the classics this year, including 1984 and A Brave New World. I think AF should be next! (And as I understand it, you got it right – it is an alegory of the Stalinist Russian society and communist philosophy.)

      How about an alegoric tale of multiculturalism in the early 21st century – now there’s a cross-genre theme to play with! 🙂

  5. George Allwynn permalink*
    September 14, 2010 12:57 am

    Some great food for thought – and I LOVE the Snoopy “It was a dark and stormy night” (which in my opinion, has been bashed too much.)

    • September 14, 2010 3:45 pm

      I think Snoopy has been my hero since I was the same size as a Beagle! 🙂

  6. September 14, 2010 11:12 am

    Thanks for sharing Henry Bloggs legacy with us. I love hearing about the un-sung heros – but maybe because I think my Dad is one of them! LOL

    I love basing my fantasy stories of true events and real people. Derac, an elf warrior in one of my stories is based off my Dad. I had to call and he was really great about answering all of my questions to portray a warrior type accurately. Granted, I could get away with some stuff and I changed a lot since the character is an elf and not human, but still. Derac is one of my favorite characters since he is so much like my Dad and it was definitely weird (down right creepy) to write a love scene with this character!!! *shudders*

    I normally don’t purposely plan to have my stories based on true events or people. It just seems to happen that way – subconciously. Which can be great but at the same time require a bit more research on my part in the end. Either way, I just hope that I can make fantasy believable and relatable to the readers.

    • September 14, 2010 3:50 pm

      You’re very welcome, Anastasia. I think Dads should be heroes! I sometimes wish mine was – but that’s an entirely different kind of story 🙂

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