Thursday, March 9, 2017

West Highland No Way

 “Have you ever stopped abruptly, taken up a different project and never gone back to the old one?” by Catriona

Oh yes. And I know exactly why too.

I had written Dandy Gilver novels set in Kirkcudbrightshire, Queensferry, Fife, Perthshire, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Wigtownshire, Moffat. (See map and never wonder why I'm a writer, not a cartographer.)

Why does this look like a lost Simpsons character?

Then someone asked why Dandy had never been in the West Highlands - the bit above the dotted line. Good question and I had no answer. Why not do it then? They asked. Again, I had no answer. And at this point, it seemed like a great idea that had come to me as a free gift. So next time I was home in Scotland I went to the West Highlands - Applecross in Wester Ross, to be exact - and sat on a tussock in the drizzle for a few days trying to think up a story.

I scraped up a posh family, a big house, a secret and a crime and went home to California to write it.

Well. It was like shovelling concrete just a wee bit slower than it's setting. The people were dull, the house was a blank, the secret bored even me and the crime never happened.

About 30,000 words in I gave up. It was a scary moment. The book deadline was looming and I had no idea what else to write about. But I tried to forget the folly of thinking I could force a story to happen in a place because someone suggested it and just let the "process" that had never let me down before work its magic again.

I stared out the window. I flipped through memoirs and diaries from the thirties. I  flipped through Scottish Pictorial Annuals of 1932 (the year I was up to in the series). I went for walks. I thought about stuff. I watched Youtube videos. 

And the Youtube videos worked. Well, okay, the Youtube videos of X-files out-takes did nothing, but the Youtube videos of Strictly Come Dancing (UK DWTS) touched against the snippet of news from the Pictorials about the explosion of dance halls in Glasgow in the 1930s and FSST! There was a spark and DANDY GILVER AND THE DANSE RATHER MACABRE (w/t) was born. 

The working title didn't survive

That was 2014 and so far I haven't felt any desire to go back to Applecross and blow the dust of those characters. But I never say never. Except if I'm saying whether I'll ever let anyone suggest where I should set a book. In which case: NEVER!


Finta said...

Although you haven't been back to Applecross, did the plot basis for the abandoned book ever raise it's head again? I am fascinated with the way the mind of a writer works. In your case, does the story suggest the locale or is it the other way around? Do you have a notion of where you are going when you begin to write, or does the story tell itself? If so, how the hell do you do it?

In my lifetime I've read tens of thousands of books. (Really?) (Maybe) Some were good and some I threw across the room in disgust, and a fair amount were masterpieces. For a long time I did finish everyone of them. I don't do that anymore. Too little time too many bewks and all that. But what I've brought away from my reading experience is a profound respect for ANYONE, even the hacks, who can tell a story and get it down on paper.

You, my wordsmith friend, my only linguist, are an amazing story teller, sort of like those Navajo women figures with all the children piled on. I stand in awe. Thank you.

PS, This is Ann in Rochester, in drag

catriona said...

I recognise you from your spelling of "book" in my accent, Ann. So far, those people and their story are stranded in Applecross. I think the place does come first with me.

Unknown said...

The moral of this is, always be ready to be hit by inspiration, then run with it. Nice story!