WRITERS AS THIEVES

Writers are magpies and petty thieves. We steal. We borrow with no intention of return. We pick over, separate flesh from bone, discard, dissect and reshape.
No-one is safe from our alert antennae. The stranger behind us in the bus queue. That fellow patient in the dentist waiting room. The customer at the neighbouring table in the coffee shop. An overheard conversation, sometimes just a couple of phrases, can be removed from their owner, trawled in like a grateful fisherman, stored for further use and exploitation.

Writers are merciless.

Sometimes, the theft is not verbal at all. It?s a mannerism or an item of clothing that catches our eye. Someone goes past, shifting their shoulders as they walk, swinging their arms, infinitesimally dragging their feet and there?s something in the movement that is going to be of use to us. It might prove to be the defining factor in a character that has felt too nebulous, who has not quite told us enough about themselves.

Memory is an extraordinary store house of impressions, images, heard stories, sounds and events. And however powerful and potent the imagination can be, however dynamic the ability to invent, for me all fiction is rooted in memory. Or rather, a series of memories, unconnected by time or context, that weave together to inspire and suggest until a plot slowly evolves, characters emerge.
And the longer one has been alive, the more extensive, complex and interwoven these memories so the richer the store to call upon.
In my first novel, TRUTH TO TELL, contextually the time setting reflected my own childhood and adolescence so that the mood of the time was authentic. I had lived it, felt it. A central character and his complex situation, however, were very loosely based on someone I met very fleetingly some 15 or 20 years later.
My second novel, COUNTING THE WAYS, has influences from my past and present ? the various settings from London to Oxford to a Welsh hillside are all places I either lived in or knew very well in the past and the Greek island of Kronos that features strongly (an invented name) is securely based on Crete where my family has a house and I spend a great deal of time. As for the characters ? Archie has two sources from two very different people I knew well over 30 years ago. I have also made use of a fragment of conversation I overheard in a caf? in more recent years ? just a chance sentence that I wove into a central plot device in the novel.
My third novel ? as yet untitled and hopefully to be completed in 2019 ?is propelled partly by a tiny fragment of a conversation I overheard as a child and have never forgotten. This deeply stored memory about a particular and unusual event provides a link to one of the central characters in the novel, Paul Gough. But if the creation of Paul is linked to a very distant memory, the character of Lydia Gough, his wife, has her impulse in far more recent events, namely the devastating illness suffered by my late mother.

Perhaps the importance I attach to memory as a catalyst for creation explains why I don?t write crime or science fiction or fantasy or paranormal or any of the other genres that currently seem very fashionable.
I simply write.
About people. About relationships. About families.
About the hapless, striving nature of our lives.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. If authors had a theme tune, it would be Rossini?s overture to The Thieving Magpie! Spot on, Jude! People, places, words are inspected and picked over as if an author?s life was a vast trash or treasure sale. I wouldn?t exclude the other genres that you mention either; the process is just more disguised. In the end it?s all grist to the authorial mill!

    1. Jude Hayland

      Very true! Managed to get a photo on now to support both your point and mine!

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