I’m no Latin scholar – far from it; I studied at St Trinians. I remember this particular snippet because I spotted it in The Children’s Book the first time I read it. Dame Antonia’s* central character – a writer – says she always leaves her writing in medias res, which translates as ‘into the middle of things.’ In the context of the scene, the character has been interrupted but is happy to leave her work in mid-air. She likes it that way.
This has never appealed to me. In the same way I prefer to mark a book I’m reading at the end of a chapter or page break, when I finish writing for the day I try to leave my work at the end of a scene with the prospect of a ‘new’ beginning to get me going when I return.
Yet, until it’s done, I’m always in the middle of things. I drop in and out, tap-dance on the tightrope, follow the word birds and try to keep up with my characters.
In respect of my current story, the more literal meaning of in medias res has a certain if not actual resonance. The book has its fair share of backstory, three time-frames and a non-linear narrative. And I’m not a linear writer; I regularly find myself diving in, uncertain where I’m meant to be going.
Part of me questions why I’m using a lost, ironic language to make a fairly small point. Latin is simple to pronounce and often needs only common-sense to work out the meaning. At the same time it’s full of obscurities and contradictions. It’s also fun – not least when you don’t really know what you’re talking about but enjoy playing with motifs and devices.
A bit like writing.
*A S Byatt