Kill your darlings!
There seems to be an Anglo-American dispute over this quote, with some attributing it to the American novelist William Faulkner:
In writing, you must kill your darlings!
while others go for the older English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:
Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
Either way, it’s good advice. We all overwrite at times, and for writers of non-fiction, there’s an additional menace: the fascinating sidetrack.
It’s very hard to do – but in my case, it badly needs doing. Over the course of more years than I care to admit, I’ve been accumulating information about a wide variety of people and places, all of which I would love to be able to shoehorn into my book.
All that effort! I found this bit of information on John Macarthur at the end of a long drive to Devonport after a conference at the University of Tasmania, and that letter about one of George Chinnery’s portraits while going through a pile of letters in Braidwood, New South Wales. The papers were in private hands (perhaps they still are) and in both cases I stayed with kind strangers and transcribed their family papers at a kitchen table.
I’ve taken other byways in search of location. I found 3 Sydney traders buried in adjoining graves in Parramatta cemetery. They were brothers-in-law, so that makes sense, but where were their wives? I fought my way through overgrown yew bushes to read a memorial inscription in a churchyard outside Aberdeen. I wandered around the little Protestant church in Macao, where the English traders worshipped, and read the gravestones of far too many women and children.
Most of these people and places are only briefly, marginally, relevant to my biography of Walter Stevenson Davidson. I need to strip away that tangential research, but culling is like pulling teeth, not least because some of those people and places involve stories that are interesting in their own right. They are just not a major part of the Davidson story.
So rather than chuck them out completely, I’ve decided to put my dead darlings in the blog – with a linking explanation of how they relate to WSD.
I’ve already written about one Dead Darling:
Augustus Bozzi Granville was the Davidson family doctor. He was a remarkable man, an Italian patriot who became a ship’s surgeon in the Royal Navy, became friendly with the British consul in Naples, William Hamilton, and joined with him in bringing the Elgin marbles to Britain. His Autobiography, which is available online, is so extraordinary that it led me to speculate that he may be one of the sources for Patrick O’Brien’s novels. See my post Was this the real Stephen Maturin?