The first time I thought my Brit thriller, Standpoint, might have legs was when I had an argument with the main character in a car. Yes, I know how ridiculous that looks on a screen, but it’s what happened. It was during a novel writing summer school tutored by Jane Pollard at University College Falmouth.
On the very first day two important things happened that had a profound influence on my writing. The first was that Jane told us we’d never write our books the same way again – this, was me, was absolutely true. The second occurred when each of the class outlined their book’s plot and themes. When it came to my turn – a tale of a 20-something who leaves London to start a new life in the USA* – she asked who the antagonist was and I said ‘life’. She suggested that idea might not be suitable for this course and that I’d be better coming up with a completely new idea.
My first response was one of panic. However, the day’s exercises were really useful and when she asked those of us without a clear storyline to think about it overnight I went away confidently. One of the techniques I’ve used to write short fiction is to listen for ‘the voice’. It’s a little like meditation, except you have a different expectation when you start and a different focus during each session. It doesn’t always work, but I have had good results from time to time. When there’s simply no voice present at all, I sometimes used my mind’s eye to focus in on an imaginary person, or an object.
There was no voice, only a character reluctant to speak with me. Why? He was busy! So began my introduction to Thomas Bladen. He was taking photographs and keeping records, and it was his job; this gave me a starting point. Once we’d got into some sort of dialogue he told me he was from Yorkshire, which I’d only been to once, as well as his age and the important relationships in his life.
By the next morning, on the drive over to Falmouth, Thomas and I were discussing aspects of this new book. The fact that his character arrived largely fully formed made the process of developing the book more like a voyage of discovery (or investigation!) than one of invention. Of course, not everything played out on the page exactly like the early discussions, but still remember his voice in my head as I parked up on day two of the course, insisting that he wanted a helicopter! Did he get it? You’ll have to read Standpoint to find out.
What’s your process or technique for creating new fiction from scratch?
Standpoint is published by Joffe Books.
Can one good man hold the line without crossing it?
* Scars & Stripes is now a completed standalone comedy drama, in need of an agent or publisher – I’m just saying…