Monday, 5 December 2011


Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 2011.

In the notes at the end of Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords, I mention a few authors. My Amazon Kindle book takes some measure of influence from Alistair MacLean, Adam Hall, Robert E. Howard, and Brian Freemantle, to name a few.
   That’s one book. My writing takes a great measure of influence from famous books and their authors, from books and writers you may have heard of, and from material even I’d be hard-pressed to place. That’s because I learned a world of stuff about writing by reading utter drivel.
   You can sit in awe of certain storytellers. Forgetting all thought of construction, or well-turned phrases. You don’t know how they did what they did – the writing was too busy taking you to some other world. If you are in the business of writing for cash, you may learn from the masters.
   It’s just as likely that you will learn from people you say this of – what satanic deal did these arseholes sign to get into print? Lumpen description. Cardboard characters. (Steady, I say to myself. I’ve deliberately created characters constructed from cardboard. Yes. Cut-out and stand-up, since you asked. Erchie the butler has many cardboard assistants.) Plot? I’ve encountered deeper plots in bowls of alphabet soup.
   With so many influences, good, bad, and indifferent, where does the originality come in? Here’s a handy non-answer. Don’t allow yourself to become fixed, stapled, to the notion of the original plot. The notion can affect the best of us.
   For a few seconds of her life, the author of Jane Eyre was herself known as Jane Eyre. Let’s call her that now. Mr Thackeray, an author, read Jane Eyre and declared that he was familiar with the plot. This rather annoyed Jane Eyre. She’d searched her mind, and thought the plot original.
   Not to give the plot away, kiddies, events in Mr Thackeray’s life coincided with items of note in the story. That’s why he felt bitter familiarity with the plot. Later, Thackeray met Charlotte. He publicly introduced the novelist to his mother by calling Charlotte Jane Eyre.
   In private, she cursed Thackeray like a paratrooper. Well, no, she didn’t. I just tell it that way for effect. My telling of it is hardly original. People cursed like paratroopers in fiction before I seized on the phrasing.
   What is original? Mr Kipling had some rather harsh views of Mr Burroughs, concerning a certain Lord of the Jungle. The Lord transplanted to the jungle may have been raised by apes, but Kipling was not best-pleased that Tarzan had dripped from the sweat of Mowgli’s brow.
   Kipling wrote a poem all about Homer stealing old material and reworking it as he saw fit. The Homeric tradition was born in an era we can safely say was pre-copyright. When ’Omer Smote ’is Bloomin’ Lyre is an amusing poetic comment on classic tales being revamped for succeeding generations. Kipling’s humour deserted him, when it came to Tarzan.
   This blog is leading to the publication of my work. What led to the writing? In short, what were the sources of inspiration? Obvious sources. The need to pay for meals, and for the electricity which made this blog possible.
   Mundane answer. Just about the best any author could give. The need to pay bills is a primary source of inspiration. Why don’t writers give that answer more often? We are creatures of the imagination, and sometimes the mundane answer is too easy to reach for. Other factors creep in…
   You’ll find financial success takes the edge off the hunger for certain writers. Celtic doom chases me through the narrow hours of the night, and, for that reason, I don’t care how much money I’m going to make at this writing lark. There’ll always be the feeling that I have to. (Write, as well as make money.)
   Celtic doom? It’s a Scottish thing. We are the only people in the world who do not suffer from an irrational desire to be Irish. For we are Irish, by default. All those hardy Hibernian types left Ireland and engaged in a re-branding marketing exercise to become the Scotti.
   The upshot being that every native in sight was wedded and bedded to Irish blood and the Picts, a people named thus by the Romans, merged with the once-Irish and gradually made way for the Scots. They must have recycled incessant jokes about the Viking parentage of the redheads in the audience. Just to wind people up. They had no DNA profiling, in those days. (And would’ve disputed it, anyway. Blaming blood-red magic for bringing ginger genes into the world.)
   If you believe the two preceding paragraphs were written in all seriousness, or that they contained even the slightest grain of fact, then you really must work harder at deciphering my sense of humour. (Without getting into The Venerable Bede’s Greatest Hits, or dendrochronological analysis as applied to lack of supporting evidence in archaeological records, there is a contrary view that no mass-immigration of Scoti or Scotti from Ireland to Scotland ever occurred. The mists of time are misty for many reasons. I have no special aptitude in burning those mists away. Stories have a long history.)
   There is a great deal of understated humour in my writing. It may sail over your heads, as you read Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords. Any clues? On the book’s cover, there’s a character wielding a blade. The blade-wielder wears a wristwatch.
   Influences. The bills. Bad books I read by awful scribblers. My Scottishness, which is the shadow to my writing. (Depending on the light-source, you’ll note it ahead, trailing, to one side, appearing doubly, or you won’t find it at all.) People. Some famous. The well-known Miss Jane Eyre, for example. Yes, yes. I know. She wrote under another name. Currer Bell.
   People who are not famous. I could mention them. Sources of inspiration are meaningless. To you. They have been my friends through thin and thick. I’ve also taken inspiration from random anonymous types. On trains, and other forms of transport.
   I catch a line of dialogue. It sparkles. If it had a surrounding paragraph to augment it, the phrase would shine. You can’t make this stuff up, but you can write it down. That’s a rule to live by, as a writer. Itself, a source of inspiration.
   You needn’t be inspired by writing. It is possible to take inspiration from the uninspired, as I’ve mentioned. As a writer, I feel it is rather foolish to limit inspiration to the work of other writers. There’s plenty worth exploring in painting and music. Film and television. (Fairies and elves write scripts. Didn’t you know?)
   In television, I have developed an aversion to stories about writers. They often feel as though they’ve been written by people with a hidden talent for plumbing and a dilettante’s facility with typing. I’m laughing. A minute spent examining my approach to writing revealed a narrative structure that would fit in no television format. Describe the way I work, as though a scene on telly…
   What’s this story about? Where’s the plot? There’s a lot of typing going on, and dramatic revelations that reveal nothing every time the main character suddenly seizes a book for thirty seconds of frantic cross-referencing. Now were stuck on a cup of coffee, again. Where’s the drama?!
   It’s internal.
   Oh, we’re getting a spot of emotion. Furrowed brow. Worried about paying the bills? Or is it merely an overactive symptom of constipation? What’s that noise?! Letterbox. Just the wind. Or a flyer for once-exotic food that’s been adopted as the national dish. Tartan tikka. Made from wild haggis. Honest.
   Blank space on the page serves as inspiration. Every story has that same thing going for it, leading to the feeling that each new story is my first one. Characters. Settings. Plots. The blank space is the same, every single time.
   Weather. You’ll notice rain in slim*thriller. No, you’ll really notice rain in that story. Understated humour. Negative self-mocking stuff. Always be first to get a dig in at yourself. That goes down well in Scotland. Self-Deprecating. The name of a clan, as I recall. And an embrocation.
   Always be first…switches dialect…tae get a dig in at yersel’. I don’t use many Scottish expressions in Neon Gods. You’ll find them, if you look hard enough. In my writing if a word mystifies you, that may be an indicator of the word’s Scottishness. Or of mystification, if nothing else.
   Don’t worry about inspiration. You needn’t read the books I’ve read, to take enjoyment from my work. Obviously, you needn’t take enjoyment from my work. You needn’t take enjoyment from anything. (Bloody hell, how Scottish are you…)
   I’ll turn, swiftly, to research. For research provides inspiration. Long ago, I decided that I might have to read an entire book just to furnish one line of dialogue for a story. Bloody hell, you say. That’s a bit excessive. If you do find yourself thinking that way, read what I’ve written.
   Long ago, I decided that I might have to read an entire book just to furnish one line of dialogue for a story. It isn’t excessive at all. If I hit upon a subject with twenty or thirty books attached to it, I won’t be reading all those books. An entire book should be enough. Maybe two books.
   Hell, I’ve gone into bookshops, picked up a book on a subject of interest, thrown the book open at random, spotted one fact of supreme use to me, jotted the fact on a piece of paper, and walked off. Job done. Home, Jeeves, and don’t spare the keyboard.
   As for the line of dialogue furnished from my studies, I’m not in the habit of writing history books. Thirty pages of information shouldn’t become thirty pages of story, with the historian’s words shuffled around to protect the names of the indifferent.
   If I am to be inspired by research, it’s on my terms. Knowing I might read one book. Not a whole library. Always thinking about getting a nugget from research, and carefully placing the nugget in my work. Does the process always go that way? Almost always.
   I’m reminded of Erchie, the butler. That story was researched, and inflated beyond the size of the research material. There was so much I could do, in running wild with the bare facts, that I developed a great deal of atmosphere out of the basic story. Which I was using to cover a space-time gap in the main narrative.
   You may think it’s all wonderful character, dramatic incident, stunning plot, and emotional journeying. Quite often, the boring truth is that writing is structural. Stitching scenes together. Whisk the characters from A to B and invite the audience along.
   Researching Erchie did not take up much time. Creating the sequence took up most of the time. I had the bare bones, the facts, lined up and waiting to serve. But in fiction, I could take wild liberties. So I did, and I had a ball doing it.
   That research involved comparing a few articles, not reading an entire book. It was all done speedily. Anyone claiming passing familiarity with the source material would realise what I’d researched. And would see I’d done my own version for wicked fictional purposes.
   Looking at the books I’ve written, I ask the obvious. Were any of those history books? No. Quite right, too. Research inspires me. The source of inspiration is meaningless. You needn’t read arcane tomes to follow my work. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. For I believe it to be quite true.
   Think of research as stoking the boiler of a steam train. Effort is required to build up a head of steam which will propel the train. However, that train must leave to a timetable. If you spend all your time locked in research, you won’t shunt the work forward. The object of the exercise is to pick up paying passengers. Take them somewhere. The same problem will arise if you spend all your time blogging.
   What’s that creaking in the lack of breeze? The prison door swings wide for me as I near the end of this task. The creation of a series of blogs. After one more blog, I’ll be able to say this much. I have tholed my assize.



  1. The difficulty with writing in all seriousness is that my work may accidentally be taken for comedy.

    This is a risk that I must run. I may, like Mark Twain, be seen as a straight-faced teller of amusing tales, bare-faced liar, and scoundrel.

    Good enough bad company to find myself in, if my literary fate comes to that.

    Fell over a funny post once. I wasn't laughing.


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