One year ago today, on February 27, 2020, I was on a plane bound for London. There were a few more documents I wanted to review at the National Archives and one book I particularly had to see at the British Library. Two weeks after I got home, travel was restricted. As much as I would have liked to return to England, I was very grateful and relieved that I had gone when I did.
In January of 2019, I had been in London doing research for a new historical novel about the world of opera. It was exciting to stay in Covent Garden and attend a performance of the Royal Opera. On my last day in town, I indulged a whim to go see a portrait of a British Army officer that I had come across when I was writing my novel, A Moon Garden. When I saw the painting, I was captivated. The artist had masterfully captured the essence of a young, confident, strong, and beautiful young man.
It was difficult to find out anything about this soldier, and I realized that the novel was going to have to wait. It had become my mission to uncover this man’s story and tell it. After researching for a year, I began writing. My pursuit of information was ongoing throughout the year that it took to complete the written chronology of the life of this inspiring man. When I was nearly finished, I became sad. As I wrote the last lines, I cried.
A friend recognized my symptoms. She laughed at me and said, “You did this last time too.”
“When I wrote A Moon Garden?”
“You got very emotional.”
I did. Writing the novel was a psychological journey. The main character was constantly faced with challenges and crises in matters of war, love, family, and community. As I wrote his story, I felt his worries, his joys, his internal conflicts. I would listen to arias while working at my desk and suddenly find myself weeping. But that was separate from what I experienced when I finished writing the book. A different kind of sadness enveloped me.
While I felt the thrill of accomplishment, I also had a sense of loss. After spending over a year researching and writing about my fictional characters, I had a strong attachment to them. Although I was glad at last to be able to share the story with my readers, it was an adjustment to let go and change my priorities. That is how I feel now about this soldier. For two years, I was singularly absorbed in connecting with him, discovering who he was, what he did, where he went, how he thought, why he made his choices. It is a relief to know that his story is closer to being known.
For a few minutes, I indulged in some crying time. The mood has passed. I still have work to do.
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