Almost thirty years ago, together with my family, I spent a year in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Experimental Physics Department there was considered one of the best in the world, and we went there for Yigal’s post-doctoral work.
It was a very interesting year. We were living with real American people, in a real American suburb, and getting a taste of real American life. I’m not sure how real it was, actually, because the Mid-West, where Nebraska is situated, is typical of neither the east coast nor the west coast. It is typical only of itself, which is Middle America.
Apart from the catastrophic climate (baking hot summer, freezing winter, with temperatures down to minus forty or more with the wind-chill, and the roads covered thigh-high in snow and ice for months on end) our family enjoyed the experience. Our neighbours and colleagues were friendly, the small local Jewish community was warm and welcoming, and our children were well-treated at their various schools.
The only problem was: what was I to do with myself while we were there? I had worked as a free-lance translator in Israel, but there wasn’t much call for translating work in Lincoln. Don’t forget, this was 1984, when computers and the internet hadn’t taken over our lives as they do now.
Since I intended to correspond with friends and relations in Israel, I decided that I needed to acquire a typewriter. We duly attended a garage sale in a nearby house and managed to buy one for a song. Just a few days later I passed a much larger one that had been set out on the sidewalk for anyone to take, and lugged that one home, too. They both served me very well during the year.
Reading the local paper one day, I came across a notice for a creative writing class in the local community college. For years I had longed to engage in creative writing of one kind or another but when you are translating to tight deadlines as well as bringing up three healthy children it’s difficult to fit creativity into your schedule.
I enrolled in the class, run by a very kind lady, Catherine Kidwell, who had actually had a novel published. Her book, a love story, made for light reading but was certainly a good example of its genre. Our group of aspiring writers would meet once a week, produce an exercise or listen as the students read out their work, and then discuss what we had heard. Ms. Kidwell had a ‘set book’ which set out guidelines for writing fiction, it had a title something like ‘Story and Structure,’ and was very helpful in clarifying our ideas. It certainly helped Ms. Kidwell to teach her class.
When the course ended I decided to implement what I had learned, and set out to write my first novel. They say you should write about what you know, so I decided to write about life in Israel, or more precisely in Jerusalem, and to describe the lives of people I knew, or more precisely, three women friends of mine, their identities heavily disguised, of course.
I brought the 354 typewritten pages plus two carbon copies back to Israel with me, and they have been gathering dust on my shelves ever since. However, at the beginning of this year, when trying to clear some space in my study, I came across the yellowing pages once more, and decided that it was time I got rid of some of my old junk. But before doing so, I said, I’ll just type the text I wrote then into my computer.
And that is what I’ve been doing in my spare time since then. It is extremely tedious, on the one hand, but intriguing on the other. I pity anyone who does copy-typing for a living, but to come across my neophyte attempts at breathing life into semi-fictional characters, and reliving events as they occurred then, is quite an eye-opener.
I don’t know if the novel will ever see the light of day. After all, I have grown as a writer since those days, and now have several other finished novels in my computer waiting to be edited and prepared for publication. The work of typing up the yellowing pages is only two-thirds finished, but one day I will get to the end, I hope, and then I’ll have to decide what to do with it.