Henning Mankell died recently. He was 67. Mankell wrote dozens of novels. plays, and television and film scripts and has a non-fiction book yet to come on the illness that took him away. He was not only an author, but from what I can tell, a very nice person. Take it from me – writers are not always nice people.
Mankell’s best-known creation was a detective in the small Swedish city of Ystad, Kurt Wallander. Wallander made the switch from novel to television not only in Sweden but also in Britain where the title character was portrayed by Kenneth Branagh.
The Swedish series made it for me, someone who loves film but usually finds television unbearable. Wallander was not just human and fallible, he was declining in his powers of detection and the empathy, that he had used so brilliantly in his long career. His dedication to his profession destroyed his marriage and his daughter, coming to work with him, was not always charitable about his failings.
To this wannabe novelist with eight thrillers on offer in the e-universe, Mankell is both an embarrassment and a prompt. To have written so much and to have died relatively early – my slight (and so far unsuccessful) output pales in contrast. It is true he started writing fiction much earlier than I did, but so? He had the gumption to do it, while your unworthy correspondent hid his sublime light under not one but at least two scruffy bushels.
Other people in my life have also provided me with Mankell’s prompt: Celine’s most famous remark was that “the truth of this life is death” and when this insight is combined with stark reality, it definitely does focus the mind. I have been fortunate not to have a use-by date yet, but friends and loved ones have done, and the example of Mankell says to get with it.
There has been a nip of the wringer for me recently – a detached retina in one eye that has kept me from writing much. It could have led to blindness in that eye and that was a great pause for me – but since the operation I have scarcely put e-pen to e-paper. Yes, I can wriggle out from under a bit – the garden needs serious attention and I need to do some other domestic chores that matter.
But what I mean to do is to write – write fiction. It’s what I meant to do when I was fifteen years old, and it’s I what I’ve tried to do for around 15 years now, and when I’ve been able I’ve put my head down and got stuck into it. The more one writes, the better the writing is likely to be.
My eye is not still not well. It is weird. Two little bubbles dance around in it as if they are happy cells that have just divided and would like me to notice. When I go out in the noonday sun, I realise that I am neither a mad dog nor an Englishman, but am dazzled by the spectacle and without shades can not make my way. It is getting better but as with some other aspects of my life, getting better can be a long, long process.
Henning Mankell’s prompt says even if it is not improving at all, it is time to move.
Thanks for reading.