Verona Bass*

Website: http://veronabass.wordpress.com

MEET UPS : January, February, April

QUOTE : ‘I would know my shadow and my light; so shall I at last be whole’..  from Michael Tippett’s oratorio:’A Child of Our Time‘.

PROJECT  : ‘Trust Your Voice’

Written and posted into an envelope to self: I want to accept my Christmas present to myself, and bring about a publishable version of ‘Morning of My Life‘ a Memoir.Before I lose heart, and become daunted by all the other good writers on Project 2017, I’m declaring that I want to complete the long-gestating memoir about my early life growing up on a farm in the Transvaal, South Africa. I am only ‘one more voice out there’, but I’ve given myself permission to trust that voice. I hope to be guided as I strive to find the best format.

PROGRESS REPORTS

February 26th, 2017

So much stimulus and the sense of support and encouragement after a Meet-Up. Thanks to Sue Boyle for her leadership. And thanks to you all for helping me to Trust My Voice.

One of the most thought-provoking comments of many interesting ones on my submitted poem and prose piece is that it seemed pre-lapsarian ( I had to look it up! ) Yes, maybe for me this backwards glance is that it all appears to be of another time, but into which I have a privileged view because of my memories.

What I found as I got deeper into the memory zone was that I’ve been trying harder to imagine my grandparents’ lives, without the assistance of researchers! I want to pursue that more but I realise now that it would be false to try and incorporate that into my work as I’m conveying the child’s view and experiences. It helps to inform myself but I need to stick to the brief. I didn’t know or care about the Anglo Boer War in the way I do now.

However, one bit of useful research, thanks to the internet, has been finding out about the Illustrated London News. Images of the covers and seeing how much general information it disseminated has told me how worldwide its reach was. I now see that those journals were a further source of literary encounter for me. And I found them first in my maternal grandfather’s home, and later elsewhere.

Further stimuli: Albums compiled on different themes from cigarette cards! In particular I recall that is where I first saw the work of Italian Masters.

The impact of family photograph albums when visual stimuli were few, with no screens around. Occasional trips to the cinema with Pathe News featuring world events before we enjoyed adventure films like Tarzan or a lowbrow comedy.

And does anyone know about Viewmasters?

13th February 2107

I think it is progress when it’s possible to edit a piece many days later and feel that only minor changes are necessary. Enjoying finding where rhythm can be improved or an alternative word found, but the essence of the first version intact. I am glad that I’ve confined myself to a particular era, that is my first ten years of life, as that seems to be what truly interests me. It has to work for me! I am more aware now of possible negative reactions that might arise from mentioning certain things that aren’t PC. But I can’t let it prevent me from talking openly and honestly, for example that animals were killed and that there were guns around, safely stowed , usually!

I think that one should obey the instinct to write as much as seems necessary to explore areas that want to be remembered or examined in greater detail. Perhaps that way the better quality of a more compressed piece will emerge. Also, one must not shirk writing about difficult areas , say relationships. It is helpful in the long run, and it doesn’t all have to be used. Years ago I was given this phrase: ‘The act of writing generates more writing.’  I have found that to be true.

 2nd February 

I am on such a roll. Whether it’s to good effect in a literary sense, I’m not sure, except that it’s good for me! I almost don’t want the indoorish weather to stop so I know I can carry on. So far I have written about twenty two poems and counting [which refuse to be anything but poems]  and about 6 prose poems , all longer than you recommend. They want to go to about 400 words.

and from a blog admirer….

I have indeed been looking at the Writers’ Project blog – full of fascinating projects. Among many poetic pleasures, please do pass on my enjoyment of Verona’s prose memoir. I thought it a terrific  beginning, beautifully and simply written – a challenge, given the complexities of the political and social situation to write so honestly and freshly of the child’s first vision and feelings … 

24th January

I’ve written almost every day since Christmas. The waking moments are the ones I use to focus on the scenes of my very early childhood that are there to be tapped into. It’s visual and probably emotional too. Because I’ve written the full account before, it’s about finding a new way to come to it. Usually I sit up in bed as the sun is breaking and use this lovely liminal  phase to continue writing in longhand with pencil and rubber. Only later do I go to the computer.

What surprises me sometimes is that I think I’m going to one area and find something else pressing for attention instead. As yet I can allow that as I think it’s this instinctive writing that I must trust. This time it is the adult speaking. I had a useful thought given me by a perceptive friend, that ‘it is the child who is standing behind me’.  What I’m writing tries to be true to what the child saw and heard, but education, and the sophistication I yearned for, now dominate my expression. At the same time I need to keep it simple.  I find that I am able, after all, to try and describe something of the lives of the African people we knew, and maybe I shirked that before. Perhaps it helped that I said I didn’t feel I could do it. I knew so little, really, and I ask myself why. But that isn’t the point of this memoir. It is about the morning of MY LIFE.

FROM THE FIRST MEETUP DAY

My Statement about the Memoir, Morning of My Life.

I’ve often questioned my need for this Memoir to be written. I can neither deny nor justify my place in this particular period of recorded history. I can not duck out of my part in it. This is a sideways look at the blip in time when I grew up in privileged circumstances. It’s a plain speaking account of how things appeared to me. All that I can say is that this was the morning of my life, that when I became aware of my place in the world, I was able to watch the flow of the River Vaal, and to learn to swim in it.

My senses came to full alertness on a sharp sunlit morning when my universe was filled with the calling of doves in the willow trees. Of all the memories that I can vividly recall, this is the most plangent. That continuous liquid warble was the background to my days growing up in South Africa.

We sometimes called across to the trees on the opposite bank to hear the echo returning our names. This is what defined me. This was my time and place.

Verona Bass

January 2017

BACKGROUND TO MY PROJECT

My early life was spent on a rented farm on the banks of the Vaal river, South Africa, and I was born during the WW2 years. My father grew maize, and we had many animals too. There were oxen drawing the plough and the threshing of the crop was done by itinerant men with machines. We had the help of  black labourers who lived in huts nearby. My two sisters and I had young black females as nursemaids to help my mother, a busy housewife, seamstress, and someone who also had her own parents, also farmers,  and my father’s aged mother to care for from time to time.

verona-bass-at-home

My first school was in a one-roomed building with a corrugated iron roof and a single male teacher. He was assisted by his wife who taught the infants in the mornings. Some children came from very poor backgrounds, arriving in donkey carts. There were twenty five of us. In my home we had a family Bible and the Farmer’s Weekly as reading matter. I don’t recall other books, so the school library shelf was important to me.

I have vivid memories of the sounds of the farm, the activities I observed, the tactile sensations.  I was unaware of the Apartheid political situation until much later. As children we went along with the world we were born into.

An alternative description of background…

I’ve been inhibited up to now to express my memories of growing up on a South African farm, partly because I’ve felt I need to give an account of the very particular historic context. My early life kept pace with the imposition of apartheid. I knew little of the world of government, apart from being on the fringes of discussions and certain words and names being repeated. We grew up in a time when the social lives of white and black did not overlap. A child observes and accepts. That black and brown people were poor and that we had servants was part of the fabric of my existence.

What I experienced in the Forties and early Fifties were the tactile sensations and the varied sounds of my life on the banks of the Vaal river – a myriad doves calling, guinea fowl stuttering, the rattle of a threshing machine, the burble of Sotho voices, men chanting in unison to lift things, cattle lowing, sheep bleating, frogs, cicadas, the crack of a whip over a dozen oxen inspanned to a wagon, an African maid teaching me to sing N’kosi Sikelele, my father’s concertina.

I watched and walked barefooted, and thrived at school, a one-man, one-roomed affair, (only twenty five pupils  all taught together.) I don’t recall reading matter at home being anything other than the Farmer’s Weekly and the Family Bible.

3 comments on “Verona Bass*

  1. Your story is a fascinating one, Verona. I have loved reading your detailed progress reports, in particular the descriptions of your early life in South Africa. I will be interested to see this develop.

    Like

  2. veronabass says:

    Thank you very much, Sue. I’ve returned to writing in the last few days, having given myself a break on holiday. I wondered if the intensity of my recall would be affected but I find that the original images stay fixed and strong, but now I need to bring them to life with the discipline required of us.

    Like

  3. barleybooks says:

    How’s it going Verona? I hope the writing is still generating more writing. Do let us have another update! Hope to see you again some time. Ama

    Like

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