Monday, 5 March 2012

ABIDE WITH ME:How it all happened (1)

Three years ago I was struggling with a novel.  My first proper go at writing a full length book.  I'd had three or four short stories published and thought it time to stretch myself a little bit further.  The novel was - is - called 'A NIGHTINGALE SANG', and one day I will finish it.  The novel is about a disillusioned writer who becomes involved in a conspiracy involving the very nature of history itself.  A concept novel, if you like.  The style of writing is very different from my short stories and AWM.  More conventional, you might say.  And like I say, at this point time, I was struggling to move it forward.

Then my mate at work - Gary - stated the bleeding obvious, as they say.  He pointed out I'd written three short stories, all in the style that was eventually to define AWM, and they'd all been snapped up straight away and published.  If you want to write a book, why not write one in the same style as the stories?



My first thought was to look at the stories that'd been published and see what I was doing differently from the book I was struggling with.  The answer was clear.  The short stories were written in my voice.  The book I was trying to write was written how I thought writers were supposed to write.  One was real, one was fake.

Whilst looking through the stories, one grabbed my attention - THE RISE AND DEMISE OF FAT KENNY - published in Radgepacket - vol 3 from Byker Books.  And I knew from the first re-read the seed of my debut novel lay in that story.

The first question I asked myself was how do I turn a twelve-hundred word story into a sixty thousand word novel?  The main protagonists in Fat Kenny all ended up being present in the novel - Kenny, John, and Ronnie Swordfish.  In the short story, they were all adults.  To create a novel, it seemed obvious I would have to go back to the childhoods of John and Kenny.  That much seemed clear.

And then it began.  A picture in my mind of a young boy laying in front of the telly watching the 1975 FA Cup Final, a feeling of warmth and family and love surrounding him.  That boy was John. Whilst watching this scene play out in my head, I was aware across the road from this family a boy was suffering.  Kenny.

When I first began the novel I had no idea where it would lead.  John's voice was so clear in  my mind, the pictures so distiinct, all I had to do was watch and listen, let the whole thing play out in front of me.  I was merely a spectator.  Although John was telling me the story I was convinced he was telling the story of Kenny.  I didn't realise until about half way through, John was telling his own story.

And it came as quite a shock, to be honest.  I'd imagined John to be no more than a peripheral character, the narrator of Kenny's tragic life.

The more I listened to John and his fears, his anxieties, his loves, and his hopes and his dreams, the more I realised John was me.  We were interchangeable.  And Kenny was me.  Ronnie Swordfish was me.  And all the other characters - Keith, Thommo, Dad, even Dribbling Albert.  They were all me.  This was no longer a novel I was writing.  This was an exploration into my deepest, darkest self.

And that was the last thing I expected.

To be continued . . .


  1. I find the aspects of myself that come out in characters to be pretty interesting.
    Sometimes a little scary.

    1. Amazing, and like you say Charles, pretty terrifying what the unconscious throws up if you let it. My theory on why all the crime/noir writers seem to be such nice people is we allow our dark side to express itself on the page - thus making for a better balanced individual. Freud's sublimation, or something or other :)

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  3. Fascinating stuff, Ian. And a hat tip to Gary - it's little moments like that which can change a writer's destiny. Off to read your second piece...