8.06.2006

what i'm reading

I just finished L.M.F., written by Matt Bin, known to friends of wmtc as M@. It was excellent!

L.M.F. stands for "Lacking Moral Fibre" - a former British military designation for what is now recognized as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

L.M.F., the novel, is a bit of military history from a personal point of view: one man's reaction to the stresses of war. It takes place during WWII, and the main character is a Canadian flying bombing missions over Germany. It's engrossing, very touching, and I learned some history, a great plus for me.

The best news is that Matt is an excellent writer. It's so nice to have talented friends! Conversely, it can be scary to see a friend's work and then compose yourself for a necessary fib. When I worked in theatre, I saw a lot of bad acting and bad plays. But now I have several friends who are very talented writers, to the point where I am often amazed and envious - in a good way.

Did I mention that Matt, Allan and I had dim sum together last week? We talked about dogs and travel - things we all love - and could easily have continued on like that all day.

I have two questions for Matt about the process of writing L.M.F., which perhaps he'll answer in comments. How did you research the details of the bombing missions? I'm also curious about the book's non-linear structure. Did you originally write it in chronological order, and then reorganize it to move slightly back and forward in time? Or did you write it in non-chronological order in the first place?

These questions give me a great idea: a website where writers interview writers about their recent publications. It could be a great publicity tool. Of course, I have no desire to create and maintain such a website. I'd just like it to appear and get lots of traffic - if it doesn't exist already.

13 comments:

James said...

The great comedian Spike Milligan was discharged as LMF in 1944, after coming within inches of being blown up by a German bomb in Italy. Fortunately, by then the Brits were starting to realize that shell-shock was a real problem, not just cowardice.

Milligan never really recovered from being bombed. While writing the Goon Show he suffered two serious nervous breakdowns, and tried to kill Peter Sellers once (not very successfully, fortunately!).

Milligan's war memoirs -- at least hte first few volumes -- are well worth reading, though they are in a very odd, irreverant style that's not for everyone.

The memoirs are:

* Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall
* 'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?'
* Monty: His Part In My Victory
* Mussolini: His Part In My Downfall
* Where Have All The Bullets Gone?
* Goodbye Soldier
* Peace Work

The first four are the ones worth reading. The last three were basically thrown together for the money.

His tombstone reads "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite", which is Irish for "I told you I was ill".

Marcy said...

I was having one of those silly discussions with someone about what time period I would've liked to live in. I mentioned late 1800's/turn of the century.

But then I realized (assuming an average lifespan of 70 years) that if I were young at the TOTC, then I would have to live through the two world wars. And if I were old, that meant that I would've lived through the Civil War.

I don't if this goes for every country or not, but it seems to be that as an American, there is not one single generation who hasn't experienced a war.

I think that is very sad.

M@ said...

Thanks very much for the kind words, Laura, it's much appreciated. I understand what you're saying about readying the friendly fib -- I have been in enough critique groups to know all about that. It's really good to know that you liked the book.

First, about James' comments -- I'm really glad you brough up Milligan's memoirs. Those books were constant companions for me in my late teens and early twenties. My best friend and I used to read them while we were away in the reserves, as we were signallers in the artillery just like him. They are funny and ribald enough to appeal to a seventeen-year-old but they've stayed with me long after.

About the structure of the book. I actually wrote it as a short story, first, which turned into the last chapter of the book (after many, many changes of course). But the fragmented, back-and-forth story line was actually the first thing I decided on. I was sitting on the back porch of a close friend who had just had his own first novel published, and I was talking about how I wanted to start on this novel, and it came to me how to do it.

The challenge was to present a story with two major halves -- before and after the breakdown -- as one cohesive story. By alternating between the earlier and later storylines, I could build towards two separate climaxes, which would occur relatively closely in the book. And it also gave me more opportunity to maintain a reasonable pace -- an intense bombing mission could be followed by a relatively placid period on the ground.

The other challenge was to make this a novel about war, and set in a war, but without making it into a war novel. There is very little direct violence in the book -- in keeping with the modern warfare, where four miles (straight up) is as close as one typically got to the enemy. I was inspired in a way by Frederic Manning's "The Middle Parts of Fortune", the greatest English-language WWI novel. Almost the entire book takes place behind the lines, while the main character's unit is rotated out for five weeks. The point of writing LMF was to think about the impact of the war on the individual -- typical war novels are the other way round.

Phew. I'll post this just so I can take a breath.

L-girl said...

I was having one of those silly discussions with someone about what time period I would've liked to live in. I mentioned late 1800's/turn of the century.

At least pick a time after the discovery of antibiotics.

There is not a time in history I'd ever want to live in, other than now. We are so lucky.

L-girl said...

I actually wrote it as a short story, first, which turned into the last chapter of the book (after many, many changes of course).

My first novel also began life as a short story. I couldn't think of an ending. :)

But the fragmented, back-and-forth story line was actually the first thing I decided on.

Wow, very interesting. I guessed you had written it linearly, then fragmented it.

Oh also --

I understand what you're saying about readying the friendly fib -- I have been in enough critique groups to know all about that. It's really good to know that you liked the book.

-- I truly did. If I hadn't, I would manage to email you something blandly encouraging, but I certainly wouldn't blog about it, ask questions, etc.

L-girl said...

The challenge was to present a story with two major halves -- before and after the breakdown -- as one cohesive story. By alternating between the earlier and later storylines, I could build towards two separate climaxes, which would occur relatively closely in the book. And it also gave me more opportunity to maintain a reasonable pace -- an intense bombing mission could be followed by a relatively placid period on the ground.

Yes, that definitely works. Had it been structured chronologically, the eventual ending would have been a disappointment - and it would have lacked all suspense. Nicely done.

M@ said...

Okay, about the research. I spent my youth building model planes and tanks, and reading military history. Yet another facet in the gem of geekiness that is my life. I first read about the LMF issue in a book called "Boys, Bombs, and Brussels Sprouts" by a Canadian veteran named J. Douglas Harvey. (He was featured in the CBC's "The Valour and the Horror" episode on the bombing campaign, suitably titled "Death by Moonlight".) I was about fifteen years old, and his page and a half about the issue stayed with me for a long time.

So I had a pretty strong backing in the history already; my military experience helped me to create the flavour of serving in the military too. I don't think any of the characters were actually based on any of my colleagues though. At least, I can't think of any.

When I was working on the novel, though, my military history collection more than doubled. I was picking up every book I could find on the bomber war, plus numerous visits to the library. I found a replica of the pilot's manual for the Lancaster bomber, which was really useful for the details.

I also visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and got to climb aboard the Lanc and actually sit in the pilot's seat.

One interesting thing is that there is almost nothing written about LMF. There are a couple of books that touch on the issue, and one book with an entire chapter on it, but all of the information seems to be anecdotal. I have not seen a first-hand account by any LMF airman.

This is an important issue -- we're going to be dealing with our walking wounded from Afghanistan in a few years, and we can't help them if the stigma around PTSD remains. (Note that US Vietnam veterans are finding their disability taken away or refused because they are being reassessed as not suffering from combat-related stress. Note also that there have been ten thousand desertions from the UK military since the Iraq war started. This issue isn't going anywhere.)

Okay, I think that answers Laura's questions and works in a rant or two from me. Whee!

If you're interested in buying the book, please drop me an e-mail at mattbin_atsign_gmail_period_com. It's $15 plus about three bucks shipping. We are supposed to have online ordering available soon, at www.matthewbin.com.

Thanks again for your comments, Laura. I've been receiving good responses to the book but it's still a real charge for me to hear that you liked it.

By the way, I like your website idea, too, Laura! Someone, start it up!

L-girl said...

Thanks for your responses, Matt! Very interesting.

Your research is about what I expected - but I wanted to hear you tick off your sources. :) Having done some research myself - and having witnessed Allan's research for a non-fiction work of history - I know that most people have no idea what goes into writing a book. That is, in addition to the little detail of writing the damn thing.

I found a replica of the pilot's manual for the Lancaster bomber, which was really useful for the details.

Oo, cool! The details are sparkling. You can really see the plane in front of you. (Although I have no idea what the Lanc actually looks like, I haven't Googled it yet.)

I have not seen a first-hand account by any LMF airman.

That is very sad. I'm sure the male aspect of it plays into that, too. Many women have written about their PTSD, but have any men? Romeo Dallaire is the only person I can think of off-hand.

This is an important issue -- we're going to be dealing with our walking wounded from Afghanistan in a few years, and we can't help them if the stigma around PTSD remains.

Do you think there's still a stigma? Not in the military, but in general society?

There's a much greater understanding of it now, thanks in large part to the disabled vet's movement post-Vietnam, and to the women's movement, re rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

In my involvement with the anti- sexual assault movement, I have really seen how all trauma is related. What my fellow New Yorkers suffered from after 9/11 exactly mirrored what I went through while recovering from having been raped - and what every person I interviewed or read about went through during their own recovery. The similarities are astonishing.

M@ said...

I'm not really sure to what degree the stigma exists outside the military, but it certainly exists for the ex-military who are suffering. I also don't think that the general attitude to mental disease in general in our society is very good. So when a society is at war (as we were in WWII, and as many people seem to want us to be now), we take on a more military worldview.

I imagine you're right that trauma is similar no matter what the source, though I have little knowledge beyond the military sphere. The reason I thought LMF was an important enough book to write was that it's so easy to divorce the reasoning from the human cost of war. You can say "support our troops" all you want; you must first understand, though, that this is what you're supporting: psychological scars and treatment that will haunt us, as a society, for decades.

L-girl said...

I'm not really sure to what degree the stigma exists outside the military, but it certainly exists for the ex-military who are suffering.

Oh. That's very bad.

I also don't think that the general attitude to mental disease in general in our society is very good.

That's certainly true, too. It's gotten much, much better, but it has a long way to go, for sure.

I think Canada may have more of the British stiff-upper-lip thing than the US. It's possible there's more of a stigma here than in the US. Not that veterans get treated well in the US - far from it! But PTSD among former military is widely and openly acknowledged.

I imagine you're right that trauma is similar no matter what the source

Trust me, I am. It's not an original thought - it's well documented.

The reason I thought LMF was an important enough book to write was that it's so easy to divorce the reasoning from the human cost of war. You can say "support our troops" all you want; you must first understand, though, that this is what you're supporting: psychological scars and treatment that will haunt us, as a society, for decades.

That's why, despite your protestations in the author's end note, I see your book as an anti-war novel. To me, any art that deals honestly with the effects of war becomes an anti-war statement.

It's also an important enough book to write because it was in you to write. Period.

James said...

I was having one of those silly discussions with someone about what time period I would've liked to live in. I mentioned late 1800's/turn of the century.

Isaac Asimov once wrote that someone told him, "It would have been great to live in the last century, when people had servants to do the menial work for them." Asimov replied, "On the contrary, it would have been ghastly!"

"What do you mean?"

"We would have been the servants!"

(Asimov, of course, was descended from Russian Jewish peasants.)

I'm really glad you brough up Milligan's memoirs. Those books were constant companions for me in my late teens and early twenties.

The very best way to "read" this is to listen to Milligan reading them. There's nothing better. Unfortunately, it's very hard to find the audiobooks -- I have a very incomplete collection.

Milligan and Asimov are probably two of the biggest influences on me. Which explains a lot. :)

L-girl said...

Isaac Asimov once wrote that someone told him, "It would have been great to live in the last century, when people had servants to do the menial work for them." Asimov replied, "On the contrary, it would have been ghastly!"

"What do you mean?"

"We would have been the servants!"


Yes, exactly. If you imagine yourself living in another time period, don't assume you'd be nobility. (Most of us would not have been.) Assume you'd be one of the great unwashed - and you'll quickly be glad you live now.

James said...

BTW, cowardice is a recurring theme in Spike Milligan's comedy. The Goon Show is full of cowardly characters, most notably Major Denis Bloodnok (Milligan hated officers from a young age, even as a boy in Poona, India).


Neddie: Major Bloodnock! Surely, you aren't going to run away from the enemy!

Bloodnock: Well, there's no point in running away from anyone else!


...or...


Neddie: Major Bloodnok, you coward!

Bloodnok: Did you call me a coward?

Neddie: Yes!

Bloodnok: What an excellent judge of character you are.


...or...


Ellington: Bloodnok, you're acting like a coward.

Bloodnok: I'm not acting!


Of course, Bloodnok wasn't the only coward, as seen in this examination of the institutionalized cowardice inherent in the British military:


Neddie: Hello folks, calling folks. I’m in a deserter’s paradise, folks, balanced on top of a secret twenty-foot ladder, in the middle of Piccadilly circus.

Wal: And damned silly you look, too, Mister Seagoon.

Neddie: Shh! Quiet, Wal. Do you want people to see me?

Wal: It matters not if they do. The crux being that, World War One from which you hide, was terminated in 1918.

Neddie: Ohh, ohhh, ohhh! Thirty-eight years I’ve been a coward for nothing! Wait! That means they owe me thirty-eight years coward deserters back pay! I’d better get down to Whitehall.