Sometimes I look up from the book I’m reading and think “I could do this”. It’s happened several times with the book I’m currently reading – Terry Goodkind’s “Stone of Tears” – where I get caught up in the moment and as our heroine is poised on the brink of disaster (no plot spoilers here), I have to drag myself away, take a gasping breath and go “Wow. I could so do this” before taking a sip of my coffee, wriggling further into the sofa with my blanket and pillow and continuing, having left Kahlan hanging (no pun intended).
When I introduced myself at the first meeting of our local CIWEM Young Members group, I attempted to break the ice with a bit of humour. We did the serious introductions – name, degree programme, current job – and then I attempted to get a few smiles out of the students sitting on the other side of the desks from me. “But underneath all this” *gestures at my suit and shirt and smartcard lanyard that I always wear at work* “I secretly want to be a fiction author”. The stunned silence that greeted me was not what I had hoped for, but as we went through, people seemed to get the idea and a few smiles broke out, a couple of laughs and soon the small group of like minded individuals who have a love of the natural or water environment were a lot less scared of each other and a little bit more receptive to the debate I hoped to spark.
But it’s true. Deep down, underneath my newly minted professional exterior, self-concious workaholic and wide-eyed newbie larper, is an author with her notebook and pen, balancing a laptop on her knee and sitting quietly in the stillness. And hopefully, one day, she’ll have her moment to shine on the outside.
It’s a little daft, but at times I day dream of a little book (okay, a big fat book) sat on my shelf with my name on it. To have friends (as it’s likely to be my friends and family who actually read it) comment on how much they enjoyed a particular scene or asking about what was coming next. To walk into a coffee shop to see someone buried behind a familiar cover, wrapped up in their own imagining of my world. To have something I can put in someone else’s hands and say “you might enjoy this”. Even if it’s just one person outside of my immediate and future immediate family (as they all have a vested interest in being nice and complimentary about things which, to be honest, aren’t all that good. Current proof is the way my cousins lapped up my terrible “epic” fantasy trilogy in which they had starring roles).
But I’m getting ahead of myself (again). First I need a first draft, and before that I need an idea.
I’m not entirely sure I can pin point the moment when I began to want to write, rather than just creating pretty stories. I know I was telling stories as a child, which were probably the natural progression from telling the odd mistruth to lying outright or lying to cover up an accident caused by younger relatives and other assorted white lies. I have a very vivid memory of my cousins, brother and I decked out in shawl cloaks, running around the garden with bamboo cane props and declaring death to the evil wizard. Our grandparents’ shed became a castle, a dungeon, a secret hideaway, a den and other assorted strongholds, and because of how my grandparents’ garden works, we ran riot along the driveways and gardens of their neighbours. I’ve skinned my knees and elbows on the stone wall countless times as I’ve launched myself into the big evergreen hedge to escape whatever imaginary foes were chasing us. I ate up fantasy fiction, myths, legends and stories with magic, going through huge stacks of books during my holidays. There was a photograph I found the other day of a much younger, frizzier me curled up in an armchair during the lull between arriving at my grandparents’ and the arrival of my cousins at Christmas, which I think sums up my passion for books.
I started writing longer stuff, coupled with Harry Potter fan fiction during the later years at high school, partly to fill the long gaps in my business studies classes (where we worked form a work book and I was frequently being reined in by the teacher to stop me from getting too far ahead of his lesson plans) and to work out some of my frustration with my peers. These were the years of Vampire and the Elementalist trilogy (which will never see the light of day again) and it felt good to create a world where I had the power to direct the lives of my characters. Except they had other ideas and the story would regularly take its own course, with me along for the ride. I was still learning how to craft a story or work on a plot, something I’ve gotten a better handle on now, but at times I just go “What the hell, here’s a problem, go deal with it”. It’s interesting to see where it goes.
During university I poked at a few ideas which didn’t get very far of the ground and my confidence in my self-proclaimed title of writer/author (interchangeably used) took a bit of a beating, to the point where I began to doubt whether I was an author/writer at all. But, having attempted a couple of nanowrimos, started having ideas which seem to stabilise around a certain topic and matured in some of my viewpoints on the world, I’m beginning my tentative recovery. I think I finally understand that nothing just happens. It needs to be worked at.
But besides the look of amazement on people’s faces when I say “Oh yeah, I’m a writer” and the recollection of people begging to read the contents of my tattered green notebook, I think the reason I write (and why I keep attempting to pull together a plotline and characters that will one day grace paper or digital pages) is because I love sinking into another world. I literally step out of this world and embed myself into the world unfolding in the pages. My OH has told me that he cannot get my attention until I come up to breath (and drink coffee) and marvels at how quickly I read. I recently rediscovered how quickly I can read when I allow myself the time to indulge in the world of the story – eating through a large proportion of my current reading book over a weekend (and it’s not a small book either). It’s why I think I get such a kick out of larping – not just that I get to run around in the dark hitting things and work out some of that pent up frustration legitimately (though I do need to stop my blows) by being scared witless at times – but because I get to interact with other stories, other characters who are all the hero of their own tale. I love hearing back story, plot ideas, stuff they’ve been involved in or run as referees. Digging through my branch’s past to find a setting for my first mission was thrilling, moulding my ideas to blend into the fabric of branch history. It’s addictive. It’s breath taking. It’s inspiring.
I read for comfort. I read when I’m sad. I read to relax or to leave the stress of the world behind. When I was doing my third year exams, I had nothing fun to read and I was going mad that anything was good reading material – even the Twilight books which served their purpose. I don’t get the hype around them, but they’re not bad if all you’re after is some slushy fluff. I certainly wasn’t expecting much else.
During my dissertation I managed to make time to read through the current A Song of Ice and Fire books. I know I lost out on some of the detail because at the time my mind was full of renewable energy, micro-hydro turbines, EA abstraction guidelines and other assorted learning, but I know it kept me sane. That and larping. Being able to just drop everything for an evening and be out with a group of people who were genuinely glad to see you and who genuinely care, was something I’d not properly experienced until my final year at uni. That and getting lost in a world where exams don’t matter until you reach the upper levels of the guilds. Oh, and having a guild permit on your person at all times.
I’m not entirely sure what inspires me to write. Sometimes it’s a song played over the radio, sometimes it’s a half remembered feeling of a dream. I know that most of my plot lines and characters are probably recycled stuff from all the numerous books, films and tv series of my childhood – all stirred together and spat out for the myriad colours to be examined. I suspect at times I’m like a Grecian or Celtic seer, poking through the entrails of animals for signs from the gods. I know it feels like that at some moments.
I know I feel the urge to write after an exciting run through the woods after a particularly good mission or a particular mix of characters and events, after watching some of the dramas I have on dvd, after a fantasy film when it was exactly what I needed after a day at work or as a break from the coursework that has shaped my time these last four years. Sometimes the mood strikes me whilst I’m reading a particularly breathtaking book or when I’ve been driving in the countryside, or having spent some time in the company of certain people who are willing to bounce ideas around and show genuine interest in the ideas. Larp froth is also a good source.
But, if I had to name one thing that gets my creative juices going, is this: mountains, particularly the Scottish variety.
Mountains have some special significance for me and more than once have I felt the uplifting swell of inspiration as I’ve travelled the A84/A85 from Stirling to Crianlarich and beyond, through the broad shoulders of the Trossachs out to Oban, Fort William, the Isle of Skye. Just thinking of those places brings back memories of holidays spent in wilder places and I will never forget sitting on the pebble beach overlooking Loch Eishort and the Red Cuillin hills, watching the water and the seals and the sunset. In the broadest terms, the wilder parts of the UK, such as some of the valleys in Wales and the mountain regions of Scotland and the Lakeland fells, bring about the need to write. When I think of settings for my stories, I know these are the places are where my inspiration goes. There’s a little thrill that knots my stomach as I enter these places, particularly on quiet times where the road can almost be ignored and I feel a little better connected to the untamed parts of my country.
And I won’t go into how enthused I was on my trip to Edinburgh Fools and Heroes driving along the A697 with frost on the ground as the sun was rising. I will only say that I wish I had had my notebook on my person in the car, rather than it being packed in my character kit in the boot.
I’m working my way towards writing a novel, one outlined and plotted and carefully prepared, bouncing ideas of the people I know and drawing inspiration from the world setting of Fools and Heroes. The working title is “The Forester and the Mage” and over Lent (starting on Wednesday), I hope to do a type of nanowrimo-esque challenge. I hope to be able to present a beta reader with a rough copy of the book around one of the big gatherings of Fools and Heroes. I may or may not chart my progress on here, but I hope you’ll all silently join me in my adventure.
But if I need inspiration, I might head off to invade Edinburgh for the day …