Just as an exercise, I spent a while last night trying to draw locations from my novel. The idea behind it was, if I can spend a while visualizing them as a drawing, it might be beneficial when it comes to describing them on paper.
Maybe. I dunno.
In the first picture, we have the ‘shop front’ of The Lawbridge Courier, the newspaper of the fictional town. It’s where the protagonist, Gary, works (the vandalism on the window happens during the story). The second picture is Gary’s home, although he still lives with his grandmother (hence the rail by the door).
If nothing else, it was fun to draw. As you can see, I’m no artist, but it made a nice change from typing into a word document night after night!
I’ve been rewriting my novel (the one I read from at the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Showcase), and it hasn’t always been easy. Editing definitely feels more like work than simply writing does, and it’s crazy how long I managed to spend agonizing over single sentences. Still, the benefit of revising is there on the page to see, and I really feel like this draft of the novel is stronger than the last.
I’m still working with my mentor, Alan Bissett, to make my story as good as it can be. I feel like I’m further along the road to completion though.
Last night’s Scottish Book Trust New Writers Showcase was the culmination of my year as a New Writer, and it was a brilliant finale. Hosted by the writer and actor Gowan Calder, twelve of us read a sample of the work we’ve been doing over the last year.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous before the show, but once I got in front of the mic, I just did my best to tell the story and I really enjoyed myself. It’s strange to look at this photo though - no matter how much I think about it, I cannot place what part of the story this is. At least I look like I’m into it, and I felt like I was too. I’d read on stage again in a heartbeat.
The biggest thanks to everyone at the Scottish Book Trust who made this event (and the last year) such a fantastic experience.
Graeme looked around his old bedroom, and tried to remember how it had been when he’d lived here. His mother and father had changed it, of course they had. They’d always wanted an office, ever since they’d gotten their first computer. Now, Graeme found himself spending every Christmas eve sleeping on an ancient fold-out bed next to a filing cabinet, worried at every creak that the thing was going to collapse under his weight.
"You’re looking ever so round in the face," his mother had said when he arrived. She pinched his cheek. “Aren’t you running anymore?”
"I haven’t run since I was a kid," Graeme had replied, ducking out of her reach.
"Maybe you should start again."
"I’m only saying."
Graeme set up his bed, and perched lightly on the edge of it. It groaned, threateningly. Deciding not to risk it for now, Graeme got up and walked to the shelves. He would put a film on, just until he felt tired.
When his brother visited with his wife and children, this was the room the little ones were set up in. The resulting choice of DVDs was poor: Peppa Pig, In the Night Garden, and worst of all The Singing Kettle. Graeme noticed a copy of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory though – a kids film from his youth, at least.
He looked at the curtains – those thick, heavy blackout curtains, the one thing in the room that had been left unchanged – and decided to leave them open. When this room had been his, he’d lie in the deep darkness, opening and closing his eyes unable to tell the difference. Graeme had never been scared of the dark. The dark was fine, because he’d always known he could turn on a light. He’d worried though, that if he opened those curtains there would be something terrible on the other side: a person, or some thing. It wasn’t even like there was a tree outside, that banged on the window. Just knowing that any moment could bring a tap, or scrape.
Graeme suspected his fear of curtains would always stick. He never closed the curtains in his own house, but that was fine. He sat in his father’s desk chair, instead of risking the bed, and pressed play on the remote control.
He’d almost dozed off in the chair when the action on screen brought a memory to the surface of his mind. His stomach twisted with dread as he watched through a child’s eyes: Charlie Bucket running home as fast as his stick-thin legs would carry him, a shining golden ticket clutched in his hand when suddenly—
"May I introduce myself? Arthur Slugworth. President of Slugworth Chocolates Incorporated. Now listen carefully, because I am going to make you very rich indeed…"
Graeme was there with a mouthful of milk teeth. He was standing next to Charlie in that dark tunnel, looking up into the skull-like face of Slugworth. If being rich meant spending another second with this man, it wasn’t worth it. Graeme wanted to escape. He wanted to take Charlie’s hand and yell, “run!”
Except he was sitting in a chair, twenty years older, and safe. He shivered. It was just a film, but the nightmares he’d had about that face as a boy had all rushed back to him. Somehow he’d forgotten…
A thought occurred to Graeme, as he watched Slugworth finally take his hands from Charlie’s shoulders and leave the tunnel. Slugworth was a fictional character, of course he was, but the man was a real person. An actor playing a part, but the face was real.
Graeme switched on his father’s computer, and googled it. Günter Meisner.
The discovery was freeing. Graeme felt older, wiser now. The man who’s performance had filled him with fear had passed. There was nothing to be scared of anymore.
Then there was a tap-tap-tap at the window.
He must have fallen asleep in the chair, because the TV had turned itself off. Graeme shook his head a little to shake away the sleep, when there was more tapping from the window. Three deliberate knocks.
The curtains were drawn. He couldn’t remember closing them – in fact, he clearly recalled not doing so. Of course he hadn’t, he never did. So then how…?
Tap-tap-tap. Someone was there.
He felt sick, as he stood up and put a hand on the fabric. He took hold, and pulled the curtain aside. On the other side of the rain-spotted glass was a skull-like face in hexagonal glasses.
"May I introduce myself? My name is Arthur Slugworth," the man said as he looked Graeme right in the eyes.
Sweat seemed to pour out of Graeme as he finally found his voice. “How can you be here?” he whispered. “How can you be real?”
Slugworth reached out, arms passing through the glass as though it weren’t there at all, and gripped Graeme’s shoulders tightly. “I am not real,” he declared. “I am a fiction. But I can still get inside your head. I can carve out a space in your mind and sit in it forever. I am not dead, Graeme. I am eternal.”
Slugworth finally released his hold on Graeme, and returned his hands to his sides. He seemed to smile as he said finally, “your mother was right. Time to start running.”
As if on command, Graeme regained control of his body, and his legs pushed off. He bolted—
No, jolted awake, gasping for air and shivering. He was in the chair. The TV was still on, and the curtains were open with just the garden outside. Graeme caught his breath. It was just a nightmare, like the old days.
Günter Meisner could die, of course he could, but the character was committed to film. Slugworth could come out every bank holiday weekend to scare anew.
"You look a wreck," his mother said when Graeme came through the next morning. He’d lain awake after his dream, and had ended up sleeping in. His brother and his family had already arrived and started opening presents, with the TV showing an old film.
"Merry Christmas to you too," he replied. "What are you watching?"
"Oh, I put this on for the girls," his mother said. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you remember? You used to worry when you watched this, because of—"
"—the child-catcher," Graeme croaked.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story.
I shared the first two sentences of my novel on twitter the other day, and I thought it might be a good thing to post them here as well. If you didn’t already know, the story is written in a Scottish Borders dialect throughout, so I’d be interested to know what people think of that. I personally love books that almost seem to be in a different language, but I know a few people who can’t stand it too, and I often wonder which one of us is in the minority.
Anyway, here is the opening to my novel (currently, at least)!
Ah spent a solid minute aimin at the toilet, an still completely missed. Ah pit ma beer doon oan the windae sill - this is gonnae need baith hands.
Rude, and messy. I hope you’ll see how good a job they do of setting the tone when you read the finished story!
Q:Do you have a favourite author, or a favourite book?
Yes. I mean, I have quite a few actually…
I love and admire Terry Pratchett. I think he’s one of the smartest writers in the world. I love all his books, but especially Reaper Man, and Night Watch.
I also really enjoy other fantasy / science fiction writers, like Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Philip Pullman. If you haven’t read the His Dark Materials books by Pullman, please correct this immediately.
My friend Heather lent me a copy of Patrick Neate’s The London Pigeon Wars years ago now. It’s a brilliant book about relationships, and has some fantastic, creative language in it. It might be my overall favourite…
…but as you can see, I’d struggle to choose.
Q:who or what is your inspiration?
I couldn’t point to a single source. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and anyone. Sometimes an idea falls into your head, fully formed, and when you write it down it almost feels like you’re remembering it … but that’s rare.
More often, I find inspiration’s like a plant. A seed is planted in your brain, and the more you feed it with time and experience, the bigger and better it grows.
To be a bit more specific, I can give you an idea of what’s inspiring me right now: childhood, family, the internet, crime, and food…
My childhood fear
This sort of follows on from my previous post, ‘You go for a walk in the rain,' so that might be worth a quick read if you haven't already.
I was set a challenge by Tweeter Rater the other day:
Tell an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical story in five tweets about a childhood fear growing into a fully formed adult fear.— Tweeter Rater (@TweeterRater)
Tricky. Yeah, I’m scared of things (I’m only human), but these days my fears are more adult-centric: Fear of not measuring up, fear of failing, of getting sick and not earning, that sort of thing. Most of the fears I carry with me from childhood are, well, dull. I’m scared of heights (how original!), and I’m cautious around cats. I almost wrote about cats … but then I decided to tell you about my curtains.
This was my five tweet response:
My parents hung blackout curtains in my room when I was a kid. I’d lie in bed, opening and closing my eyes, not able to tell the difference.— Rob Currie (@robcurrie)
I wasn’t scared of the dark. The dark was fine. I always knew I could turn on a light.— Rob Currie (@robcurrie)
It was the curtains. I used to worry that if I opened them, there’d be something terrible on the other side. A person, or a thing.— Rob Currie (@robcurrie)
Wish I could say there was a tree that knocked on the window, but no. Just *knowing* that any moment could bring a bang, or tap, or scrape.— Rob Currie (@robcurrie)
I think that’s why I had to become a writer, and create stories. I know what’s behind the curtain now … but only because I put it there.— Rob Currie (@robcurrie)
Amanda Palmer’s publishing talk, “Connecting the Dots,” on what it means to be a writer in the digital age. Full of excellent, thoroughly thought out advice - wisdom, even.