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  • Writer's pictureCiarán Hodges

Discovering Albert #2: Drowning in details

Since my first Discovering Albert blog post I've been scouring article after article looking for any piece of information that might piece together a long, complicated and largely undocumented life. Although this helped me build a general timeline of events, it wasn't unlocking anything creative. (Side note: I find it interesting that most people I've spoke to have used this word, unlocking - like it's already in there, I just don't have access yet - have you ever felt this?)

I felt like I was drowning in details but with no actual story. I had a timeline of events, but that's not necessarily a narrative. I know that sounds like saying "The grass is green.", "Fire is hot" but I was only able to see that once I realised I'd called in the Project Manager to do the Writer's work. I wasn't imagining, playing or creating. I was fact-finding, reproducing and researching. I've needed to be a bit more choosy about what I'm spending my time on, on where I'm placing value. Was it valuable to splurge money and time researching a load of textbooks that, as it turns out, don't shine much light on anything? Probably not.

The most valuable sources were free online journals such as Gerhard P. Clausius' The Little Soldier of the 95th; Peg Spalding's Union Maids (massive thank you to Bill at McLean County Museum of History for that particular one), and Mary Lannon's 1969 thesis Albert D. J. Cashier and the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry (1844-1915) (this is the same Lannon family who befriended Albert later in his life). I haven't read this yet but 142 pages of dedicated, documented information from someone who was very close to the story should uproot something at least (another massive thank you to Karmen at the Illinois State University for digitizing the whole document for me!).

I also realised that I haven't talked through the story with many people since initial conversations with my friend and producer Alex. We sat down at a cafe in Liverpool and he poked and questioned gently, never antagonistic but curious. He's always full of life and he really injected that sense of passion into my mind during our conversation. Perhaps my instinct to be more collaborative and social isn't just a creative choice, but a requirement to unlock this story?

So that's what I'm trying to do now. I'll still be reading sources and scouting for information in books but I'm dedicated the majority of my time to immersing myself to the world, creating it, moving through it, developing the characters - by having conversations about the story with myself firstly and others.

I'm going to watch some Civil War movies and TV shows to see and hear the world. I want to read some plays and see more live theatre to be immersed by the form and the reality of how plays function. I especially want to revisit Brian Friel, the Irish grandmaster - as there is a wealth of wisdom to be gained from his balance of tradition and play.

So I wanted to ask - how do you step into the world of your work? Do you struggle to start? How do you overcome that? How do you play with your work? Do you sometimes have the same anxieties that I've had?

I'm genuinely interested, it can seem that people only ever achieve; that writers never fail or are frustrated, but I don't think that's true is it? I certainly know I've failed more times than I can remember, but I don't publicise that - what are we not learning from each others failures, mistakes and frustrations if we're only ever talking about the good stuff?

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