Monday, February 22, 2016

Questions, questions

Like Vicki last week, I too have been enjoying my hibernation. We've even had a whole week with nothing at all in the diary and time to catch up on all sorts of stuff. But now the gales and rain we've had over the winter have given way to wonderful clear cold days with very blue skies, the snowdrops and crocuses are coming out and there is even a shy clump of primroses under a bush.

So the events are starting up again too. There are two in the next month, one a festival a hundred miles north, not far from Aberdeen and one closer to home here where I'll be speaking to a book club. Very considerately, they've primed me: they've told me they want me to think what are the three most common things I'm asked as a writer, and how I reply – much easier than having to um and er while I think about it.

The first one's easy – where do you get your ideas from? It's usually asked with a sort of 'Bet you never thought of this one!' expression. I always have to fight the temptation to say, 'Oh, didn't you know? There's this little shop in London. If you want an original idea, it's very expensive but second-hand ones are remarkably cheap,' but of course I don't.

The image I sometimes use is of the representation of the primordial soup that you can see in a museum in Edinburgh, Dynamic Earth; a sort of sludge swilling round and round and every so often a bubble rises to the top and bursts – that's my brain, coming up with an idea..

But of course the truth is that you get your ideas from everything, all the time – a snatch of conversation, a story in a newspaper, something you notice in passing – and then the idea works in your mind and the story emerges, if you're lucky. It's not a very neat answer, though – if anyone can suggest a better one, I will use it shamelessly.

Second question: what do you write with? It seems a bit irrelevant, particularly since nowadays I guess there are very few people who write on anything other than a computer, but  for me it is quite an interesting one, having cut my writing teeth in the days when you wrote longhand, then typed it up, in duplicate using a carbon, with a pot of Typex beside you that within days of opening would deposit sticky white blobs everywhere. And of course if you made ms changes, it meant not only retyping the page with those changes, but the subsequent pages as well if you wanted the finished document to look professional.

So moving on to a computer transformed my life, but the switchover took some time. I would write longhand, then get it up on the screen for revision. After that, I got to the stage where I could whizz along until I got to a point where something wasn't working and I'd go back to longhand – I always felt I could then 'hear'  my characters better. The day I realised I really  had transferred to computer completely was when I realised I was making 'hearing' spelling mistakes – 'your' for 'you're', 'there' for 'their'. (And thanks to Beelzebub – see previous posts – I had to return to longhand for a bit and I didn't like it at all.)

The third one, 'Do you put real people in your books?' is often followed by, 'You won't go putting me in one, will you?' with an arch look. The honest response would be, 'Not if I want anyone to read it, no,' but I usually say that I don't, in general, since characters in books can't be as inconsistent and unpredictable as real people are. But if pushed, I sometimes confess that there was one murder that gave me a therapeutic outlet and stopped me saying things to the person in question that I would have deeply regretted later – and of course I made sure she would never have recognised herself!

I'm looking forward to this book club meeting – they sound an interesting bunch. The only problem is I shall have to take time to re-read the book they've been reading since they will almost certainly remember more about it than I do!


Sybil Johnson said...

Interesting post. I started out writing solely on the computer and have now changed to writing the first drafts of chapters longhand. Then I revise on the computer. I get a lot more done that way.

Aline Templeton said...

I'm so interested that you have switched that way. I'm back on the computer again now and I don't think I'll be tempted abck.

Sybil Johnson said...

It's also kind of interesting because I have two degrees in Computer Science and have been working with computers for what seems like eons. Still, writing longhand seems to connect with my imagination better.