Monday, February 15, 2016

5: Chasing Stories

How did I get from this so far entertaining, if not overly challenging word play pursuit to the point of producing stories - 50 of them?  I described the process somewhere recently (not on this blog, I've just had a look!) as a process that is about equal parts inspiration and desperation.  Once in a while, the invented meaning came with a package of associated ideas.  I said: "Thank you very much," to the tutelary spirits of writing and got on with it.  On a good week, those ideas sustained me through a beginning and a middle, then propelled me to an end.  I did have at least one or two of those.

Mostly, though, I'd get something started and then think: "Where the hell do I take this?"  That would be when desperation began to encroach.  I think the majority of people who have tried to write fiction have probably experienced this.  That feeling that all your thoughts just degenerate into negativity, and you sit there - perhaps chewing the end of a biro until it has become some sort of gnarly, misshapen replica of its former self - thinking: "Whatever made me think I could pull this off?"  You work through all the techniques that have lodged in your brain for dealing with this hiatus of ideas.  Automatic writing.  Word associations.  Random idea generation (Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies' came into action more than once).  Et-bloody-cetera.

Sometimes you just have to wait.  Let's take an example. One of the stories that has made it into the book has been published by 'Confingo' magazine and can be read on my website ( ).  It's called 'Friendly Smiles and Calm Voices'.  It started with the word 'analgesia', which I'd already decided should be capitalised because it sounded like a country to me.  A country without pain!  So what was I going to do with that?

The answer came to me on a holiday with my then-partner to the Mediterranean island of Gozo.  If you don't know it, it's a relatively small island a short distance from Malta.  To get there you fly to Malta, drive to the relevant port and take a ferry.  By the time we arrived at our booked apartment it was after dark and we were exhausted.  We'd not found a supermarket where we'd intended to get supplies, and had nothing to eat or drink except a few bits we found there on arrival.  It was a pretty rough start.  Things got better, in some ways, but we discovered that the Euro money that has graced countries such as Spain with fine roads had not reached Gozo.  Apart from one slick central stretch, we found that virtually all the roads were pitted with potholes, and more than once became muddy tracks.  And that wasn't all that was buggered up there, but you get the picture.

I'm not complaining.  The place was an experience, it had its wonders and I'm glad I spent time there.  But it got me thinking that Analgesia should in every way be the opposite of what I was experiencing.  It should be the perfect holiday destination, where everything you read about in the brochures and the publicity turns out to be exactly as described.  And with perfectly surfaced roads, of course!  All this would be true to a magical degree.  Analgesia would be a place where it was simply impossible to find anything wrong at all.  And I could start the story as if I were writing the copy for one of those brochures - addressing the reader in the second person and inviting them to picture themselves in this exquisite environment.  "You breathe air scented with honeysuckle and a hint of some exotic spice."  Lay it on thick.

And in the course of a few hundred words, "you" starts to become a character, a character who is unsettled by this constant, undiminished perfection and craves to find a flaw, some hint of human error or failing...

After that, the story wrote itself, smoothly and - I hope - entertainingly.  Like I said, sometimes you just have to wait until the building blocks you need present themselves. Sometimes they never do. There are quite a few unfinished WM stories on my hard drive.  I'm still waiting for those blocks to turn up.

I'm winding toward the end of this little sortie into the process of generating 'Wilful Misunderstandings'.  Next time I'll wrap up these thoughts about the writing process and wind us back to the thoughts with which I opened.  After that there will be more. 'Til then, may your dreams be sweet and your days be fruitful.

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