Sebastian Faulks' Introduction to his emotionally overwhelming World War I novel Birdsong is full of fascinating insights. He makes a telling remark about 'sitting for hours in small cemeteries' unsure as to what he was looking for but soaking himself in this world 'hoping perhaps to acquire the authority to write about it'.
There is also this vivid remark about his last journey to the continent before setting home to write:
I stood beneath the great arch at Thiepval, where the names of the missing -- not the dead, just those of whom no trace was found -- are like small print footnotes in the sky.I found his comments about the order of the major elements of the novel thought provoking. He wrote that the major theme was 'How far can you go? What are the limits of humanity?...the answer seemed to be that there were no limits to humanity' (by which he means human depravity). Then came the following about the process of writing:
This is the ideal sequence, I think -- from theme, to event, to character -- though it is seldom this orderly.And then it struck me that when it comes to the universe we begin with character, or to be precise we begin with three persons, and what follows in the eternal counsels, and through the works of creation and providence in time and space, in the Fall and work of redemption, and stretching forward into eternity, is the outworking of character.
Character is plot on the biggest stage of all, beginning with the pactum salutis and the eternal decrees and from creation to new creation. For upon all his works is impressed and embedded the wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth of the Triune God.
The poignant epigraph that Faulks chose for the book he took from Wilfred Owen's final letter to his mother before he returned to the front lines, where he would die one week before the signing of the Armistice. Owen had chosen some words from Rabindranath Tragore:
When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassableNow we see in a glass darkly, now we see his glory by faith, then we will behold his glory world without end.