Last time out I wrote a little about a new project I have fermenting in the deepest recesses of the mind. This novel may or may not get written but I thought it might be interesting to share from whence the idea came.
Picture the scene: I am driving back to my old house to crack on with the let-me-save-some-deposit cleaning. I am nearing the end of a two-hour spell behind the wheel. I have our old favourite radio station on: a steady diet of solid rock, anthems all the way. I may be wearing sunglasses. Don’t hold that against me.
A song comes on. It’s not one I particularly like and I’m not particularly interested; traffic is heavy and there are temporary speed restrictions. A line of lyrics cross my ear and creep up on my higher consciousness. I can’t remember what it is now (I could check but I don’t want to find it was entirely different to what I imagined it to be; I’m happy being ignorant) but it gave me two characters: a woman who does business in bars and the man who pretends to be her boyfriend so she won’t get hassled.*
I don’t know what type of business this woman would be transacting but I suspect something illicit. The song ends. I arrive at my destination. I get to work and turn over possibilities. I’m in no rush: I’ve plenty of other writing to get on with.
And then I bring in another song. Die Trying is about migration: the mix of hope that one day you’ll find a safe harbour and the despair that leads you to make increasingly risky decisions; so you ‘fall right through the world and disappear.’
This is a story I want to write.
So let’s push those ideas together: an immigrant couple (not necessarily romantic) who are grifting a way out of the camps and the corruption they meet on both sides of the fence.
This is how I come up with stories. I mishear. I see an ill-considered line – of lyrics, of verse, of fiction – and wonder about what it really means. I see a glimmer in the dirt and stoop for a closer look. Or perhaps I see a dullness in the diamond-pile and feel compelled to take my magnifying glass to it.
The world is full of writing prompts. Sometimes they need to be hunted, trapped and tamed. Sometimes all you have to do is sit back and let them come to you.
My previous (still unwritten) idea came from playing Civilisation: Beyond Earth, reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, and musing about gestalt consciousnesses and the next stages of human development.
Most ideas come to nothing. Most days I’m not receptive enough – too tired, too wired, too monomaniac for this chickenscratch assemblage.
But every discarded fancy takes me closer to finding a pattern that fits, that intrigues enough to make it worth the effort into transforming inspiration into a plot. What I come up with will bear almost no relation to the finished product. That’s just the nature of art.
And it means there’ll be a lot more discarded ideas to rearrange, to break down and build up again, the next time I catch my hunchback reflection in the carnival mirrors of my dreams.
And my dreams are always shaped by music.
*Oh go on then. It’s Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis. I’m not entirely sure what I heard to twist my mind in that particular way; the whole point of music (and, indeed, all art) is that we all take something different from it.