In an effort to avoid using this blog simply as a space for self-promotion, I thought I’d start keeping a writing diary of sorts. I’m too private (paranoid) about current works in progress, though, so I thought maybe the occasional retrospective regarding a recently published piece with some comment on where the ideas came from, the redrafting process, some analysis, that kinda thing.
First up? ‘When The Devil’s Driving’. There will be spoilers though, so if you haven’t read it yet then perhaps consider this post an example of self-promotion after all and come back once you’ve read the story…
This story began as a (slightly longer) title scribbled in one of my notebooks, ‘Only When The Devil’s Driving’ which came to me while watching some crappy crime film (because if I’m not enjoying a film, or anything else for that matter, I’ll disappear into my own head for a bit and think about stories). The title might have been inspired by an onscreen visual – a bad guy in a car or something – but the phrase suggested something more psychological, the idea of acting against your usual character, and I left it at that. Just a few words, jotted down.
Next came the setting. I was daydreaming (again), thinking of different places to set a story, any story, and I thought of a wrecked car, a burnt out wreck, half submerged in a filthy pool or marsh. The Devil’s Basin. Why might it be called that? Well, I had a few ideas (I used all of them). I didn’t write anything about the place, not yet, but before that daydreaming session was done I’d also gained a teenage girl sitting there, beside the car, lost in thought.
The story itself began one day after flicking through my notebooks and noticing that Devil Driving title. It brought back the image of the car and the girl at the Devil’s Basin.
I started writing.
I barely planned any of this one. Sometimes it’s like that for me. I’ll just write and write and tidy up whatever I get later on. I described the place, put a girl there who quickly became Lucy, and waited to see what she’d do. Another girl came along and although in the first draft I gave her a name, a separate identity, I actually intended for her to be a reflection of Lucy in some way, a younger unspoiled version of her. She lost the name in redrafting to make this a clearer possibility. (By the way, regarding the redrafting process, thanks are due to Stephen Dines who was kind enough to read an early version and offered some useful criticism. I don’t often let others read work before it’s published but occasionally something needs checking or there’s something not quite right that I can’t quite see. Steven Dines is one of my go-to guys for this. He’s very honest and understands how stories work.)
So anyway, I made it up as I went along, that first draft. I mentioned earlier that sometimes it’s like that for me. Well, I think I have to do it that way sometimes, just because it feels so liberating. I love writing, every aspect of it, but some days feel more like hard work than others. It’s good once in a while to just throw consideration to the wind and let the words come. See where they take you instead of the other way around.
Speaking of which, Lucy murdering the young girl surprised me (though a psychologist might talk about conscious and subconscious levels of writing…). Until that moment I thought the story was going to be a conversation, maybe a confessional tale in which the young girl helps the older one come to terms with something she’d done. But the devil was well and truly driving by this point and Lucy did what she wanted, which was kill the girl.
On the surface, ‘When the Devil’s Driving’ is a murder story with a horror finish. You can read it like that if you want. Lucy kills a girl at the Devil’s Basin, hides her in the boot of a dumped car, and the devil comes for her at the end as a result of her actions (though perhaps her actions had been his all along). If you don’t like the idea of actual devils, well then he can easily be metaphorical, a suggestion that all of Lucy’s actions from this point forward will be coloured by what she did at the Devil’s Basin. It’s a nasty enough story either way.
But there’s another story as well. It’s like that car, half hidden beneath the foul surface of that devil pool, a victim hidden inside.
In this story, the victim is Lucy. She’s the victim of a childhood trauma, something I sometimes emphasised, sometimes understated, in the redraft. For example, when Lucy’s mother asks, “What car? When? When are you talking about sweetheart?” it’s easy to dismiss as just part of her parental concern, but by asking when (twice) she’s also suggesting there might have been a car some time before the timeline of this particular story.
Young girl, mystery car – these are enough (I hope) to suggest the trauma, one that was most likely sexual. In this version of the story, Lucy murdering the young girl at the burnt-out car is actually her re-enacting her own death, a metaphorical death regarding her innocence. So in a way, that girl is helping Lucy come to terms with something after all. Lucy wielding that fatal rock is a manifestation of the guilt and shame she feels for her own culpability in getting into a stranger’s car (or for going along with what happened in the car). The young girl Lucy ‘kills’ has no name because she doesn’t need one, the girl is Lucy. Lucy doesn’t want to know the girl’s name because she doesn’t want to face it. She doesn’t need to know the girl’s name because she already knows. And she doesn’t like that silly girl much. The girl who started her period early, same as her. The one with the absent father, same as her. The one who knows when Lucy lies but likes her stories anyway.
Because stories can hide things.
Like the bad thing that happened to Lucy and made her the withdrawn lonely (possibly murderous) girl she is today.
You don’t need to tell the reader everything. I don’t go into details as to what happened to Lucy (though that line about how to smoke a cigarette is pretty suggestive) and I don’t tell the reader who did it to her (maybe daddy, maybe not, depends how you read the Nick Cave stuff) because that’s not what the story is about. It’s about how the event shaped Lucy afterwards. It’s about how memory can be a place, a dirty place, a place Lucy can’t seem to leave.
Or it’s just about one girl killing another. One girl going bad, going to hell. Whatever.
Or, more accurately – and this is one of my favourite things about writing – it’s all of those stories, all at the same time.
It’s up to the reader in the end. Like I said, there’s no need to tell them everything. A writer builds a car. Gives it a shape, puts an engine in it. The reader can drive it wherever the hell they want.