Waving Goodbye to Princess Di


One Sunday morning about six years ago we pitched tent in Montana and headed for the highway, looking for breakfast. We had been at an event where leaders of the Blackfoot tribe were bringing their stories to non-Native Amwericans for the first time. Living on a meadow, ancient storytelling methods our entertainment, we were cut off from current affairs that made the rest of the world stir.

We found a log cabin diner and ordered a fry-up. "Oh you poor thing," the lady behind the counter said on noticing my English accent. "I'm sorry. So sorry."

I didn't know what she meant, and she could not understand how I did not know the news. She showed me the headline on the local paer's front page. Princess Di was dead.

I phoned home to my mother from the diner's payphone. The Princess's death struck me as a global calamity, a time when families need to come together, to know that they are safe. In the car after breakfast I was already processing, letting my anger rip. I saw the princess as a victim of obsessive media intrusion into her life. "Already I bet somebody is preparing to cash in, and turn this whole thing into a novel," I fumed.

And something had happened. I had engaged. A process began that ended yesterday lunchtime, when I finished my novel Look Who's Watching. Time has passed, the creative process has kicked in, and I doubt that many would now guess the novel's source. The book has no princess, for example, her role assumed by an American Oscar-winning actress. But the source returned in a dream last night.

The dream began with the discovery of new writers and their wonderful books. A scene from one of the books was acted out. It involved Princess Diana, her open-necked shirt hanging loose over her jeans. She was carrying a baby toward a train, and I thought at first the scene was in doubtful taste. The book was good and did not need to trade on celebrity tragedy. Then I watched the Princess step onto the footplate of the train as it moved off. Somehow holding on to the baby and holding on to the train she managed to lean out into the gathering wind of her journey. It was moving; it was exhilarating.

I find comfort in the dream. My novel is a baby. It's due to be carried off into the world.

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