Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Not That Old Chestnut

Many years ago, more than I care to remember now, I attended a creative writing course.

I have attended about three different courses with three different tutors and generally found the same thing: mostly they are run with an agenda set by the person running the course and mostly if you fall into his/her little group of favourites then you get more time and interest per session - otherwise you might get five minutes at the end after Billy Nomates has finished his half-hour diatribe "literary" fiction on the suicidal tendencies of a rabbit (literary fiction in this case meaning an attempt to produce something high brow and utterly unreadable that will never sell, but will nonetheless be regarded as "groundbreakingly innovative" in the same way that pickling half a cow was seen as being groundbreakingly innovative when Damien Hirst did it.


On this particular course there was a chap, who I think I'm right in saying only turned up for the first "taster" session (IE the night that the fees have to be paid - after which the 40 people who show up on what is effectively a free class crashes to the regular five or six you will see for the remaining 9 weeks) and read a piece about a burglar breaking into someone's house.

And it was pretty amazing: extremely descriptive, very atmospheric - and it reminded me strongly of Peter Gabriel's song "Intruder" (from the imaginatively titled album "Peter Gabriel" - one of four albums bearing that title)

At the end of the story the teacher asked where the inspiration had come from and he said "the Peter Gabriel song - Intruder" and went on to explain that he had wanted to capture something of the atmosphere of that song in a piece of fiction

Being a big PG fan even then meant that I was the only other person there who had heard of the song - but it got me thinking: were there any other songs of his that could be taken as the starting point of a story and I, in turn turned to the album Peter Gabriel (not the same Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel - a different Peter Gabriel...oh now even I'm confused...tell you what, I'll start assigning numbers, shall I?) and took a combination of The Rhythmn Of The Heat and San Jacinto from Peter Gabriel (4) to bring to life a short story about a coming-of-age story set in a circus.

To be honest I didn't have a lot of initial confidence in the resulting story, and when it came to reading our works aloud at the end I asked for someone else to read it for me - and was surprised at how good it sounded.  Even so - the story might well have ended there had my teacher not taken it upon herself to send the short story to the BBC on my behalf.

Nothing actually came of that submission - I got a letter back saying "thanks, but no thanks", but I think it was the first time that anyone had really shown any confidence in my writing and I'm still grateful to that teacher for taking the time and effort.

The story then sat on a computer doing nothing much for many years (nb: this eventually seems to have led to the original story being forever lost when the computer died - as there is no hard copy in existence that I am aware of) -  but eventually I came to think that maybe there could be a novel in that gem of an idea - to write something that was both lyrical and also exciting to read, using that circus setting and the original short story as the ending to which I was reaching.

And that's where the problems really started: as each time I would get started on the story I would get a couple of chapters in and then find I was unhappy with the writing and was struggling to keep the story going.

Again and again I went back to the beginning: sometimes getting further than others.  Then, even more frustratingly, one of the characters became far more interesting than my original hero and when that happened it became totally impossible to work towards the original ending.  Also there was the ongoing problem of the female character - who seemed to exist merely as a prize to be won by one side or the other.

I guess this was one of the many factors that led to the writer's block I was struggling with when I started this blog: that and the fact that everything I wrote was only ever read by well meaning relatives who wouldn't understand a word of it.

It was only as a result of trying (and succeeding) to write a novel in a month (try NaNoWriMo this November for yourself and see what I mean) that I re-discovered writing and was able to finish my first full length novel....but that story was still sitting there...unfinished...

I still think that the basic idea is a good one, and maybe now I have a way to get around the problem of the ending, and maybe the characterization of the girl as well - but it means going back to the start and doing a complete re-write again, maybe scrapping almost everything that has gone before - and I'm just not sure that I can face that

Still - today I created a file on my computer under writing titled "last try" and read through the first two chapters to try and get an idea of the size of the piece of work required.  It's pretty big and I'm still not sure whether it's a journey that is worth taking

Are some roads best left untravelled?


Anonymous said...

NaNoWriMo. Ugh. Every year, I summon the gumption to start, but never make it very far. I got about 10,000 or so words once, my longest shot.

If it's a story you want to tell, then it'll flesh itself out. I've heard it takes time for this sort of thing, but it sounds like you've got the urge to try.

On the other hand, I've heard the advice, "Kill the baby." Harsh, but also equally true, perhaps. Letting it go may free your mind for other things.

Your call. You'll never know if the story is there until you attempt to write it . . .

The Bug said...

I think the fact that you keep coming back to it means that you're not ready to let the unfinished story rest. Maybe THIS is the year that it will make it past its infancy.

pohanginapete said...

If I were any better at getting books written (I'm not — I'm worse) I'd make some suggestions. However, I have heard, and probably believe, that first drafts are usually awful — so awful, in fact, that some authors feel ill. Maybe it's important to accept that, knowing (or assuming) that fixing the apparently unfixable can deliver a surprisingly good result?

Stephen Hayes said...

The answer to your question is no: every road needs to be traveled and there's a lesson to be discovered down every path.

susan said...

The Rhythmn Of The Heat and San Jacinto are two of my own favorites of Peter Gabriel's songs so the idea of combining the images into a novel sounds like a wonderful plan. I think that sometimes large concepts are worth the time it takes for them to coalesce. Maybe now is the time for that last try.

Argent said...

I still believe in this story. Maybe tell from a first person? That would ive it a different slant.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

thanks all - i did write individual replies but it didn't save it