Second Thoughts: In the dark, dreaming of books: Terry Waite recalls how his memoir, Taken on Trust (Coronet, pounds 5.99), was composed during the solitary confinement of the hostage years
Saturday 01 October 1994
Prolonged solitude can be interesting. I found that I could extend my memory back to the very earliest days of my life. More recent events were not so easy to recall. Now, I conclude, perhaps I was attempting to find security in childhood. The very security I lacked as a hostage. Living in darkness and half light my senses became more acute. I could walk into the bookshop I knew as a child and smell newly printed books. In my mind I turned the pages and gazed with childlike delight at the coloured illustrations. The pleasure I had experienced 40 years before returned in full measure.
I soon realized that if I was to survive it was essential to maintain a strong inner life. I needed to tell myself stories. In telling myself the story of my life I was maintaining a lifeline with a reality I had known and lived. Characters from the past emerged to comfort, amuse and haunt. Time took on new meaning. That which I called 'the past' was a part of me. It had shaped me. Just as in my small way I had shaped the experience of living. My soul longed for harmony and rhythm, and my gratitude went out to those who had enabled me to learn whole sections of the Book of Common Prayer by heart. The balance of Cranmer's English enabled me to maintain inner balance.
Taken on Trust was written in my head during those years. When I eventually emerged and was given a fellowship in Cambridge I found that I did not want to use a typewriter or computer to write. All I wanted was a pencil and notebook. The book was already written in my mind. Almost no re-writing was required.
Since publication, the book has engendered an enormous correspondence which indicates that it has been read in a variety of ways. Some readers admitted that at first they were puzzled by the structure. As they got into the book they realized that they were being taken by the author into the experience of solitary confinement and the cutting back and forth between past and present enabled them to experience something of the mental processes involved in surviving that experience. One eminent reviewer described the book as being 'egocentric'. He quite failed to see that the writer was attempting to hang on to identity, because the threat of dissolving into madness was ever present. Several people admitted that they had bought the book and then lacked the courage to start it. When they did they were relieved to find within the pages flashes of humour. Many wanted to know more. What happened when I moved out of solitary and later when I was released?
When I was put with others my inner writing processes stopped and I entered somewhat painfully, into communication with others. The book I had written in my head was completed. The final chapter is very short. It is written in a distinctive style. Short sentences. Little or no description of people or places. It was written in that way so that the reader might experience through the structure of the book what it is like to emerge into the light of days after years in captivity.
Emotions, meetings, experiences rush at one. Some have an impact, others pass by to rebound later. One is not able to understand or interpret too much. One must learn a new rhythm.
As I stood in the hangar at Lyneham on the day of my return I was determined to make one thing clear to anyone who cared to hear. I had not been and would not be broken, and my deepest convictions had been forged and strengthened during the years alone. I had learned how to embrace solitude.
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