So, this is the moment when somebody (Hello Ian) asks you ‘How do you think of all this stuff?’ and you stop to consider it and realise that you don’t. Think of it, that is. Actual thinking implies method. If you thought of it, it would be more logical, it would be more ‘real, it would be altogether more… well, just more. This is the moment when you realise that you don’t actually think of it at all, it is just there in your head; not so much hammering on the door to be released as slowly oozing through the gaps in the frame. This is the moment when you try to force yourself to consider where it all really does come from and why you can never seem to stop it.
I seldom have trouble writing, although I do often have great difficulty in starting. Think of the final heave before the bandwagon crests the hill and begins its self-propelled plummet to the bottom. Think trying to start a Skoda in the winter. Once I have started, it (whatever ‘it’ is) just goes on its own merry way whilst I scurry behind, clinging to its coattails as tightly as a prospective MP to a popularist dream. Occasionally the original idea is the ending, and I can work backwards without using three different names for the same character, but mostly it is the beginning or the middle and I have to grope my way along with absolutely no idea of where it is all going to end until I actually get there. I am the car-boot Sat-Nav of the literary world. Even when I write a short story, I seldom know how it is all going to end. I’m rubbish at keeping secrets: if I knew where everything was heading I would, like an inept Ali Bongo*, let the cat out of the bag far too soon. Much better that it takes me by surprise too. Plots develop along the way, like mould on last week’s trifle, and endings just sort of plop into place when there’s nothing more to say.
I wrote a novel once based entirely on a one hundred word synopsis scribbled on the inside of a packet of dried peas. The ending changed with every page I wrote. New characters appeared and changed my opinions of those I already had. An off-the-cuff comment made in a non-essential snatch of off-piste conversation – of which there were many – would lead me down an unmarked cinder-path into a situation that I had not anticipated and from which there was no easy return. When it was finished and I hawked it around, I found that like the Rum-Baba at a Methodist finger buffet, whilst everybody loved it, no-one would actually touch it. I can’t say that I blame them. When asked by one publisher for a short synopsis of the plot I was at a loss, so I sent them a typewritten transcript of my pea packet notes which, by then, showed not even the slightest resemblance to what had ended up on the page. It may as well have been written in Sanskrit for all the information it offered: it was about as edifying as a Dublin taxi driver; like being sent into the Hampton Court Maze with a street map of Fishguard.
It bothered me for a while, I thought that it mattered. I tried to address it and found myself writing a succession of what amounted to some kind of stamp collector’s guide to life, with all the sparkling wit of a verruca treatment. I realised that any ‘talent’ I may possess is not actually impaired by my meandering dives into the inconsequential because, quite frankly, that is all that there is. I don’t actually make it up at all. It is always there, waiting to be let out.
So, now you know…