Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

The Fly/ Journals

I wrote 'The Fly' based on my journals, which I've kept since the late 1990s. It has become a lifelong practice: I write in my journal most days. They have become my external memory and I often go searching in them. When I was working on Gentle and FierceI went looking for stories of encounters with animals, but soon honed my search to flies. I had found - to my surprise - that I mentioned them often.

In my journals, flies appeared like punctuation, like in the Lydia Davis story 'Collaboration with Fly' which is, in its entirety:  'I put that word on the page, but he added the apostrophe'. Writers are drawn to flies, or at least the focus a fly can bring to a moment, and how they seems to bridge life and death. Two of my favourite poems are Emily Dickinson's 'I heard a fly buzz...' and William Blake's 'The Fly', the final stanza of which I often aspirationally call to mind:
Then am I
A happy fly
If I live
Or if I die.

Already flies had moved through the story of my life, alighting here and there from year to year. I read through journal after journal, extracting them, and then returned to each of the moments the flies had chosen. To do so was to write a life-story in the form of a list, a sequence of years and of moments, lightly touched upon before moving onwards to the next.

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