When I’m not at work, or out with friends, or indulging in a Bones marathon, I write. It’s what I do. How I de-stress. Sometimes I write for Bright Meadow, other times I write for me. And it’s got to the point in my own writing that I am having to describe what exactly it is that I’m writing to people. Real people. People I know, love and respect. People whose opinions I trust. I’m not talking about my blog-writing here – I’m pretty ok with talking about that now – but the writing I am doing on a much longer fiction piece.
Which is where I start to get trapped in semantics. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a ‘novel’ or even a book, because if nothing else, ‘book’ implies being published and we’ll probably be knee deep in flying pigs before that ever happens. And then there’s the fact that ‘novel’ implies a work with some serious message to impart. Or, at the very least, something set in the real world!
What I’m writing is neither of those things. It’s escapist fantasy pure and simple, set in a world of my own imagining, with characters that started life in my head because I was a lonely 17 year old who yearned to be the heroine. Sure they’ve fleshed out some since then, but still, we’re more in the realms of Robin Hobb than Zadie Smith here.
I’ve got the arc of what happens, though I’m worried I’ve over-reached because I really don’t have the skills to write the apocalyptic culminating battle I know in my head has to occur. I know the main characters like old friends and I am totally head-over-heals in love with one of the minor characters (already she’s gone from being a walk-on plot device part, to being a minor-but-pivotal character in her own right who is going to have to end up with at least a sequel all to her own). I know the world they all walk intimately, and have gone to the point that I’ve fleshed out whole patterns of trade and politics for socio-economically viable cultures, who are mentioned in just one passing line in the whole bloody thing. The only thing I’m still not sure on is the ending. On paper I know X fights Y. I know A betrays his people. I know he does this because B tells him to. But… things are still twisting in my head with that regard. There is a missing piece of the puzzle and till I’ve re-written what I plotted out last time I seriously put effort into it (a good couple of years back), I’m not sure where it’s all going to end up.
I got a little sidetracked there, sorry.
What I am try to impress on you all is that, regardless of what the finished product is, this story is in my head and forcing its way out of my fingers and onto the page. I can’t help it. Sometimes I lie awake at night and I can hear whole chunks of dialogue, just playing out. Scenes will scroll across my mind, making me lunge for a notebook so I don’t forget them. And that’s fine by me. I enjoy it. It would be lovely if I could do it all the time, but I can’t.
Which is where I start to stumble with language.
People ask me what I did at the weekend, for example, or what I did on my holiday. And I will, quite truthfully, tell them that I wrote.
“You write?” Slight taken aback pause, followed by (slightly) feigned interest. “What are you writing?”
“Um, this fantasy story set on an imaginary world with two warring cultures, and it’s all about one mercenary and how he brings about an apocalyptic war because he might want to change sides. But he doesn’t really. There’s this whole theme of love, and choice, and fate and…” That’s when I start to trail off because the blank look in most people’s eyes when you mention ‘fantasy’ really doesn’t encourage further elaboration. Fantasy is the realm of pimply fourteen year old losers who dress in black. It’s for the people who couldn’t get a date to prom. For the dorky among us. The geeks. Those not quite in touch with reality. The people who really could do with going back on their medication. And the people who write fantasy are the people who can’t write “properly”.
I’m not saying that that is who reads fantasy. My boss reads books about werewolves. Moose reads books about magicians and people with daemons. Lord of the Rings made being a fanboi/geek cool and pretty much socially acceptable. Nor am I someone who really subscribes to the belief that fantasy is a lesser genre (though it does seem that some god-awful dross gets published just because “it’s fantasy, so we don’t need standards”).
But still, say ‘fantasy’ and I challenge you not to think immediately of a dysfunctional teenager who wears a lot of spiky jewellery, listens to loud music, and who the FBI would question first if there was a suspected bombing at a high-school, because everyone knows that Johnny is just weird. I mean he reads books with pictures of swords, scantily leather-clad busty women, and dragons on the front. Right?
So I’m not writing a ‘book’ and I’m reluctant to mention the genre it really belongs in if I’m being honest. It would be lovely to think that I am writing a seminal work which later generations will analyse in depth and admire the skill with which I wove the many intricate themes throughout the story. To think that maybe scholars would marvel at how such an elegantly simple piece could still have relevance. And I get a perverse kind of glee thinking that it could end up being some school set-text. But that’s never going to happen. I’m not writing a modern classic, even if it was going to get published. I’m simply putting it all down on the page because I get a kick out of it and because there’s a hoard of little people fighting in my skull who really want to make sure their story gets heard.
I just wish I had some easy way to describe it to my mum is all. Or my brother, because I know the explanation I have right now is just going to have him mocking me over the sprouts at Christmas.