Warning: may increase your heart-rate by 5 bpm

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Did You Know…?


As a writer, I’m concerned that people take me seriously. That’s why, for years, I butted my head against chin-stroking efforts filled (I hoped) with drama and pathos. When I resurrected Norton Pumblesmythe, a character I made up as a joke, it felt like admitting defeat. Then I wondered what I was pining for. Did I really want my work to be analysed by bored students in years to come? Dissected like a butterfly stuck to a board? Never! If I was to return to Pumblesmythe’s world, though, I knew I had to do it properly; and that meant research. I didn’t study history at school so my knowledge of the Victorian era was limited to ‘something something Isambard Kingdom Brunel something something top hats’ Fortunately, I loved it, the Victorian era was madder than I could’ve hoped; yet it did raise questions.

Pumblesmythe’s adventures had become a blend of fact and fantasy, one liable to give way to the other at any moment. Would people believe I had researched or that I was making everything up? That worry tormented me when I spent two hours finding out whether a specific bridge was open in 1845, all for a couple of paragraphs in the story. You see, I didn’t just want people to laugh anymore; I wanted to reach those who dreaded dry historical tomes as much as I did. I had begun to feel oddly patriotic, reading of Britain’s great achievements. I even wished I had an excuse to use a cane (a few months before I had to with fibromyalgia. I got zinged pretty good there).

We all know not to use too much research, it drowns the reader, but too little is just as damaging. Where is the balance and how do you find it? It knocked me sideways when a reader for “Terror Beyond Measure” thought that I’d made up the legend of fifty Berkeley Square. I didn’t blame him, the story had an intentionally fantastic and comical tone, but he smashed the joyful little image I had of people reading the glossary and going ‘Oh, so that was real!’ Of course, one reader is not every reader, and I still have faith in the formula. I just hope that faith is enough to sustain me the next time I have to read up on the distribution of street gas lighting in 1850’s London.


The Grit

Every writer has been plagued by interruptions.  Either they’re stealing time away from their family, juggling work commitments or listening to nearby roadworks and saying the same thing: “I just know if I could get some peace and quiet then I’d come up with something great”.  For me it’s listening to the family in the upstairs flat on their half-term break; single mother with four kids on laminate flooring.  I’m afraid to write anything in the belief that it’ll turn into some thinly veiled fantasy ( all I’ve got so far is a character venting a few people into space. My mind keeps lingering on that one, delicious image ).

It’s grit, you tell yourself.  Gets in my eyes, makes it difficult to see properly.  But it’s also life.  It would be lovely if life came in these little, packaged moments which summed up a meaning or emotion before buggering off and leaving you in peace, but is that going to happen?  Imagine yourself in an idllyic country cabin; a pile of logs for the open fire, soothing sounds of nature, perhaps a babbling brook nearby or the soft patter of rain on the roof.  Ah, serene, but would you get any writing done?  In my experience, no.  You need fuel, and while that fuel may occasionally be pure and smooth, it’s just as likely to be wood alcohol that makes your brain cramp and your hands yearn to strangle.

The irony of writing is that it’s an introspective art which quickly dries up if you don’t expose yourself to life every now and then.  Writer’s block is just as often the sensation of having used up every bit of fuel you have.  So yes, the irritations are good for me, they’re good for you too, if you can get past yourself for long enough to fire that emotion at the page.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to vent some people into space.