Well I got tagged for a blog-hop thing by Stephen Bacon and Carole Johnstone, two great writers I’m lucky enough to call friends (I call them that, but they might not agree, and I’m not going to ask, but the great writers bit is undisputed – check out ‘best of’ anthologies and award short lists and whatnot, you’ll see). Anyway, I’m supposed to talk about three things I don’t write and three things I do, so here goes…
Three things I don’t write
(disclaimer: I might one day, I’m fickle like that)
I don’t like to write stories that have writers as main characters unless the very process of writing is key to the story (as is the case in one I’m working on at the moment, before you go calling me a liar at a later date). It’s something that bothers me more than it should, probably. King does it a lot, and a few others, and it often just smacks of too much ‘write what you know’, but mostly it’s just that when I write I want to write something far removed from what I really do. That’s not to say there aren’t elements of me in each story – there always is – but I want to escape from my real physical world a bit, if not my emotional one. One of the hardest stories I’ve written is called ‘Bluey’ and it’s about a teacher. I like the story (quite a lot, actually, vain sod that I am) but working on it after a day of teaching and marking did not feel like the break I usually get by writing. I think I’d be the same with a story about a writer.
Overtly political stories are another no-go area for me, really. Obviously some politics will creep in because it’s everywhere but I tend to agree with Mark Twain regarding politicians inasmuch as I feel they’re like diapers and need changing regularly for the same reason, and as a result I don’t care for politics at all. I think it would make my writing too angry, and too easy for that matter – if you want a real horror story just read a newspaper. Worse, my writing might become preachy, and I don’t want that either. I’m far more interested in individuals (see below) rather than societies, though of course the two are linked. So for example, although ‘I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing’ looks at the shocking exploitation involved in lobster fishing in Nicaragua, it mostly focuses on the narrator’s own grief and personal angst, using the political and economical situation of the setting to support this story.
Historical fiction is something I’m yet to try. I’d really like to, I just haven’t yet. There are a couple of weird westerns kicking about in my ‘still to send’ pile, but other than those I’ve pretty much left well alone. I think there’s lots of scope for adding a little horror to a historical setting but I’d avoid the biggies – nothing supernatural on the Titanic, no additional strangeness to the JFK assassination, Jack the Ripper, nothing like that. And the World Wars have enough horror in them without me adding any. I do like the idea of sticking dragons into a Victorian setting though (I have a story outlined for that) and I’d like to tackle the medieval period without turning it into full blown fantasy. It would be nice to tackle a time without mobile phones or computers, a period when there were still parts of the world to discover and we weren’t all so connected to everything. A story that springs to mind that I really like is Priya Sharma’s ‘Needlepoint’ which I picked out as a favourite from Interzone a while ago – I’d like to do something like that.
Three things I do write
I found this part quite difficult because I try to write something different each time, if possible. I’ve not established a niche for myself, and don’t really stick to one genre, nor do I usually focus on a particular locale (in fact, my stories have been set all over the place). But here’s what I’ve come up with after a bit of a think…
I write about the sea quite a lot. I love it. So far I think I’ve published eight or so stories about the sea, with a fair few more planned (including a series of novels). Maybe not a large number, but that represents about a fifth of all my published work across all genres. Partly I think it’s because the sea genuinely terrifies me, so it’s easy to harness that fear. Not that each of the stories is necessarily frightening, but there is often at least a sense of awe that touches on the sublime (in the truer sense of the word). Another reason I like sea stories is because of the mystery – there’s so much we haven’t explored of our ocean planet, and there is some weird shit in the water (hence the story ‘Where the Dark is Deepest’). I kinda subscribe to the idea that we evolved by climbing out of the water because it was just too fucking scary in there.
I write a lot about individuals, mostly lonely people or outsiders, flawed broken types. I noticed this pattern when putting together the contents for my collection, trying to split like from like, and it’s no bad thing really I suppose (I’m sure it’s cheaper than therapy). I should maybe write about a family or two some time soon to balance it out. But mostly I love the psychological aspect of a single character and often chuck in some basic Freudian stuff or symbolism while I’m at it. I’m not against relationships in my fiction but it’s usually between two people and usually it isn’t working properly or is somewhat complicated.
Speaking of characters, more a technique thing this time but I do tend to make sure the names I use for my characters are significant somehow. They have to sound right, of course, but often there will be further connotations, or puns, or a meaning few people will know but me (without looking it up). Frances and Charlie in ‘At Night, When the Demons Come’ are particularly significant, for example (can’t tell you how in case you haven’t read it). Rita, from ‘The Death Drive of Rita, nee Carina’, plays with the RTA initialism for ‘road traffic accident’ and Carina puns on careening. Josh in ‘Water For Drowning’ is someone who doesn’t take things too seriously. Things like that. I have to say, though, it bugs me when it’s obvious. A detective called Morse? Really? Fucking Rebus? At least you have to think a little bit with Sam Spade (digging for the truth). The most obvious I’ve gone is a grieving character called Willow (weeping Willow?) but even then she tends to get called Willoughby in the story because of a misunderstanding (her middle initial is B) which disguises the weeping Willow reference a bit. I hope. (Well, it doesn’t now, obviously.)
So there you go, three don’ts and dos concerning my writing. Thanks for the tag, Stephen and Carole. I’ve no idea who hasn’t done this, but I do know that it’s probably passed V. H. Leslie by as she tends to avoid social networks and all that. So tag, you’re it, Victoria…
Post Script: I’m tagging Ralph Robert Moore as well. Go for it, Rob.