The Covid-19 pandemic is terrible in so many ways: the sickness, the deaths, the general air of fear and uncertainty that has fallen over the entire world. But against all this, it does provide an opportunity to look at all our lives, to address things that we otherwise skip over in our hectic daily lives.
For some this will be that DIY project they’ve put off, for others it allows for an introspective look into how they are living as a person. It might make them a better friend, partner, son. Or just a better citizen overall. For my partner, its a chance for her to attack the mountains of clutter that we all just seem to accumulate. We all have it, and no-one really knows how it gets there. Piles of clothing, bedding, old electronics. We don’t remember buying any of it, but there it is, admonishing us in silence and making us seem like one of those weird hoarders from the TV.
Let’s face it, we all have a bit of that in us.
But, for me, it’s the constant headache of the novel I’ve never written. It’s like a dull ache that I’ve just grown used to, an itchy anal pollip that I occasionally attend to but never so much that it ever goes away. It changes shape, it loses coherency, and sometimes I forget it’s there at all. But it always returns to me like a niggling bout of herpes.
It’s the dark gift that just keeps on giving.
I first started writing stories when I was about seven or eight years old. A friend and I wrote a ‘sequel’ to James and the Giant Peach. Only we used an orange. A Giant Orange, for authenticity. We were young pros, after all. We basically copied the text of the original onto the sides of A4 paper, folded them to make a ‘book’ of sorts, and my friend did a lot of excellent illustrations to finish the job. Seriously, he was a talented kid. I was just a lazy plagiariser.
But the finished product was a lot of fun. So I was bitten by the bug.
Over my school years I was regularly commended for my writing. I won school prizes, that sort of thing. One of my favourite teachers even mounted a poem I wrote, to commemorate the birth of his daughter – who I remember was named Bethan, good solid Welsh name that -, on his classroom wall. I cant remember it now, but my sister saw it five years later when attending the same class. It was pride of place. I liked that story.
Pity that it was one of the few of my own that I did like.
For this has always been the problem…liking my own ideas. My first fully fledged novel was based on a playground game my mates and I used to play when we were in Infants and Primary school. It was called The Magic Corner, and was based around the concept that a specific corner of our school playground was, you guessed it, magic. It had a special cupboard only we could open, and we took out magic rings to help us fight monsters, who took the form of clouds. The chief monster was called Starwing and we had a special helper called The Black Figure, who was a shadow person that used to hang around with us.
Actually, that’s a still a pretty fun idea. Maybe I’ll revisit it one day. I definitely need to research this shadow person though…maybe he was a demon or something. Or perhaps I need to stop watching conspiracy shows.
Anyway, what I learned from that first novel attempt was the tricky skill of turning an idea into a plot. I failed, that’s the abridged version of the story. It was a 150’000 word fail, and it took agents and publishers rejections to eventually mothball the idea, but it never fully went away.
Over the next TWENTY YEARS this initial idea has mutated so much that I literally cant remember what the original was even about. I have copies on floppy disk, that’s how old it is. And I have no way of recovering it. Which is probably for the best, as I remember it being god-awful. I wasted so much good wood pulp printing it to send off to London…my carbon footprint is as big as King Kong’s at this point.
But that insult to the English Language remains the only novel I have ever finished. Which bothers me greatly.
Now, that isn’t entirely true. For if anyone has flicked through this mindwarp of a blog you’ll see that I am, or have been, a prolific Harry Potter fanfiction writer. In truth, I think that plagaristic side of me as a Seven Year Old never really left me. I suppose I just found it easier to write in other author’s worlds.
Over the course of my fan fiction career, which has spanned at least fifteen years at time of writing, I have churned out at least six novel-length – or longer – stories, as well as around a dozen shorter ones. That’s not bad going, as a catalogue goes, but I’ve never been able to translate that to something of my own.
Which also bothers me as, like I said in a previous post, I recently passed HALF A MILLION reads since I re-entered fandom writing about a year ago, after a five years hiatus.
If I’d done that with an original story…and made a quid for each one…I’d be pretty pleased with life right now.
But, as it is, I’ve only ever made enough from writing for a couple of nights on the piss. A couple of hundred quid from the odd short story or article. I’ve seen my name in print, and not in my obituary, so that’s something I suppose. But I’ve always had this niggle to write and finish something I can be pleased with.
So…what’s the problem? That’s what I’m trying to use this lockdown to find out.
I can’t believe that it’s an ideas or creativity problem. When I write fan fiction, I am never short of ideas. I can think outside the box, look at nuances from different angles, and rip ideas from them. Then I can plot tightly and nicely, give my readers something to think about, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, with most comments complimenting my writing craft as much as the story.
So it isn’t that. I can write decently enough, I’m confident about that. Hell, I was up till 3am yesterday re-reading one of my own fan fics as I was drawn in by the plot and lost track of time. So I’m doing something right, at least.
But what’s the issue then? There’s a chance I’m just hung up on the original idea, but I have changed it so much that I don’t really believe that either. It could be a confidence thing – my own ideas have never taken off, whereas my fan fic ones have – so do I just second guess myself all the time. Or maybe my ideas just aren’t strong enough, I just don’t know.
The niggle still remains though. Last year, when I jacked in my job, I had a chance to really make a go at writing the story in my head. I tried, but I fell back on Old Faithful and churned out nearly 400’000 words in two fan fictions instead. Were they good? I think so. Did it help my long term goal? Hell no.
So, in a perverse sort of way, I’m trying to see this lockdown as second chance. To get over whatever boundaries and barriers I’ve thrown up and get some real writing done. I’ve essentially retired from fan fiction, as I don’t have any solid ideas to bring anything new to the table right now. And I’m hoping that means I can channel my creative side into original work.
Success right now? Sweet F.A.
Which Is the purpose of this post, a stream of consciousness exercise of sorts. So bear with me as I ponder all my reasons in a typed form. This could go anywhere.
I suppose the first question is why do I want to write? That’s an easy one, it’s my creative outlet. I cant paint, I’m no good with my hands, and when I sing lives are lost, or people consider taking their mortality into their own hands. So I write. It’s quiet, solitary, and I can block out the world. Which is handy, as I don’t generally play well with other boys.
Okay, so what do I want to write? What do I want people to see at the end of it? It’s a curious one. Part of the drive is to put Wales on the map. My nationalism takes its form in a sort of irritated frustration that the world largely forgets Wales. We have a beautiful country and a heritage quite as rich as our Celtic cousins the Irish and the Scots. We have myth and heroes, and Penderyn Whisky is easily as good as anything of a Scotch or Irish bent.
But we don’t have the kudos. We don’t have Braveheart or Craic or Guinness. And it annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ireland and Scotland. I have Irish in me, and Dublin was a spiritual visit for me. The Druid or Templar in my blood found a home there. But I think Wales should have something to offer too. Belfast had a big Game of Thrones pull, but it’s own history is deep and fascinating too.
I suppose I just want to give Cardiff something back. So writing a story set here has always been a goal.
So that’s a story hook. Righting the wrong of the unrequited Harry/Hermione romance from Potter would be next on the list. All my fan fics are about that, so it would be a drive in anything original too. Then there’s Literary Alchemy, which is a fascinating and rich tradition in British fantasy literature. Perhaps I’m setting a target a bit high there, posturing myself alongside the greats.
But I’m an arrogant little bastard and that’s just going to sit right there. Go hard or go home, I say. I know I’m British, but finishing Second just makes you the first loser. That’s not a habit I make. If I can’t win, I don’t lose. I just don’t play to start with.
Next on my drive would probably be a family saga. I have serious Daddy issues that have coloured my life and leanings. Some are good, some are bad, and I have always supposed that it would be a kind of therapy to explore them in fiction. Doing it without cliché, or being too personal, is a tricky little minefield though.
So what do we have? Let’s see:
- Make Cardiff great
- Harmony righting
- Daddy day care
Hmm, where’s the plot in there? My influences at this point are the Ancient Alien Theory and the world of conspiracy. Technology versus nature. But I don’t want any story to be too sci-fi. The reason for this is that I want to attract a broader range of reader. Girls in particular.
This is an odd one. For my most well drawn and strongest characters are all girls or women. I have a penchant for the Sacred Feminine. Probably my Knights Templar roots showing there. So, should I make my protagonist a girl? The problem I have there is that I’m not one, so would I fall into stereotype and chicle by writing against my gender grain? Or am I just not as creative as I think to pull that off?
Ironically, my last few fan fics have largely been from Hermione’s perspective. And not just in sections told from her point of view. Even the sections following Harry and others are told though Hermione-shaped glasses. So maybe I should promote one of my girls to the Protagonist role.
I think herein lies the main plot barrier – my central character. I don’t know them, or their personality, or anything. I can just fashion a cardboard monotone from banal data, but it would be an automaton of a character. I have some well fleshed out side characters, a villain with some meat on the bones, but who is this story about? That’s the question I’ve struggled to answer for the longest time.
And the answer seems as far away as ever.
So, I have plenty to ponder and, with lockdown suggested for at least two months, a bit of time to dwell on it. Cerebral work, I always used to call it. Perhaps I will find a spark of inspiration from the upside down nature of the world today, or the missing link will be fired at me in a dream. I can only hope for such fortune, but getting through this crazy time may yet give us all a new perspective on the problems in our lives.