- Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (Peter Hoeg)
- The Resurrectionist (James Bradley)
- When I Lived in Modern Times (Linda Grant)
- The Sportswriter (Richard Ford)
- And one in traditional past tense, Burning Bright (Tracy Chevalier)
It quickly became apparent that the challenge is how to get the past of the story told while being in the present on-going story. Gap-on-the-page or new chapter and shift into past tense are trad methods. Interwoven past and present is masterful and technically tricky, and effective.
I chose two small 'shift' sections from The Sportswriter and we modelled these, sticking to the sentence structures and tenses, but swapping in our own invented characters, actions, places, feelings. We surprised ourselves with the power of our little pieces -- nothing like walking in the shoes of a master, thank you Richard Ford.
The general conclusion was that past tense is best for good old storytelling, and present tense is edgey, tricky and sometimes downright annoying to read. Now on tense-alert, I've had two quotes along these lines sent by students:
- Philip Pullman: 'the common mistake of thinking that using a present-tense narration conveys immediacy. It doesn't; it converys arty self-consciousness. It is a clanking, thumping, steaming cliche. There is far too much of it about...' (source unknown)
- Philip Hensher: 'the odd and general belief that writing in the present, rather than the past, tense is somehow more vivid... Writing as vivid and localized as Motion's doesn't require this journalistic twist.' (Telegraph 20/09/08)
Don't want you to get tense about it, but what do you think?