A writing life built on a scrapheap of stories

It was years of cast-off story fragments and untold wild fantasies that finally formed the foundation on which to build my novels…

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Part of land art done by local children.

Messy fragments

Throughout my life I’ve told myself stories, many of them messy fragments with neither a beginning nor an end. They invariably finished on the scrapheap of forgotten ideas. Sparked by a fleeting tableau: a woman pausing on a doorstep to look up at a darkened window; an old man repeatedly fingering the lapel of his jacket; a young girl halting her skipping mid step at the sight of young man. To be honest, these ephemeral snippets had no real importance. Elaborating on them was an idle game, like toying with the possibilities of parallel universes, each harbouring a differing story. Little was I to know they were to form the stock on which future novels would be built.

A ritornello to protect

As a young teenager, I frequently told myself slightly longer stories. It was my way of preparing for what was about to happen, to calm the anxiety forthcoming events provoked. It was as if I could placate the future by repeatedly trying to play it out in my head before it actually happened. Being able to control the uncontrollable, to predict the unpredictable and tame the untameable by a magic ritornello. I might have momentarily appeased anxiety, but my magic offered no guarantees about the future.

Fantasies of magic, power and longing

I would also tell myself much longer tales, wild, imaginative affairs, while I was out riding my bicycle, miles from anywhere, or alone in bed awaiting sleep. Those were fantasies of magic and transformation, of power and longing. Stories about achieving the impossible. They were the kind of stories you whisper in your head when no one is around. One of my favourites was about a magic chemical that I’d invented which made people in photos come alive and surge from the paper. The unfortunate thing about the people conjured up in those tales was that they rarely did what I wanted, despite my efforts to bend them to my will. These imaginary figures were just as unpredictable and uncontrollable as people in real life. Just as headstrong as the characters in my future novels.

Lurking monsters to drag you down 

Then again there were a few more tenacious stories that lurked largely beneath the surface, like a persistent whisper in your ear about what you can and cannot do. A life’s leitmotif. Mine was that I couldn’t write. When I finally completed my first novel, more than forty years after my teachers condemned me to a life of illiteracy, I realised that, despite my fears, I was not incapacitated by an inability to recall those details acclaimed writers were so good at describing. I was able to draw from an immense stock of stories I’d spent my life accumulating and to profit from years of experience at spinning wild and wonderful tales.

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