Younger readers are, of course, excused for not knowing what the old bat’s on about this time. Thing is, I do have one particular clear memory from nearly 40 years ago, of sitting in the garden of a hotel somewhere in Wales with pen and paper, absolutely labouring over the order in which I was going to record the various songs I was currently obsessed with onto a C60 cassette when the holiday was over. I gave all my compilation tapes titles, and drew cover illustrations for them, and all sorts.
It’s on my mind a bit just now as I am similarly labouring, and obsessed, about the order in which to place the stories in the Who Thrilled Cock Robin anthology. I have eight fabulous stories, all inspired by or based on different folk songs. (Well, to be brutally honest, I have seven and a half as I have not finished my own – or at least my Other Self’s – contribution yet). They are gloriously diverse in theme, pairings and tone and I am desperately trying to get the order just right, like any band struggling over the tracklisting of their latest album. Even though I am fairly well aware that many a reader will look at the contents page and and decide to read the contribution of his/her favourite author first, no matter whereabouts it comes in the sequence. I’m trying not to find that prospect as infuriating as I suspect bands do when their sweated-over sequence is randomly overruled by the shuffle function on someone’s iPod. I am now on about the 40th arrangement of story titles and therefore not fully responsible for my actions.
Actually, perhaps the way to make the final selection is to play all the songs the authors picked, and structure the contents page as though it were the cardboard sleeve of a mixtape…
As in, it all goes in the Box. I mean those concepts, sights I’ve seen, things I’ve overheard, things I’ve done or have happened to me which might, at some point, end up in a story. Sometimes they don’t stay in the Box long, and emerge almost unchanged, like the visit from a repairman that sparked the happy little tale that ended up in the HoE Valentine collection (get yours here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Be-My-Valentine-Scarlett-Knight-ebook/dp/B00I0B18ZC/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390566316&sr=1-6&keywords=be+my+valentine)
Sometimes something remains in the Box for years, gets taken out, shaken about, put in a story that doesn’t work for some reason and stuffed right back where it came from. There’s a dream I had about 20 years ago that’s possibly resurfacing and revealing that what it actually needs is a bit of steampunk in the mix to make it work.
And sometimes something just happens that is a total gift, like today’s little incident. There I was, queueing to pay for the book I’d picked up in a charity shop, when I noticed what the man in front of me was buying, and the delicious dissonance between him and his intended purchase. I engaged him, very briefly, in conversation about his find and his evident joy in it. And the entire plot of a novel jumped into my head in about three seconds.
It will go in the Box. He will go in the Box, with his archetypally English upper-class face, and his Barbour, and his nice smile. And his nostalgic, wistful, look as he ran his fingertips over his purchase.
And I’m not going to tell you what he bought, because this is going to be MY story. MINE. And anyway, you can probably come up with even more entertaining possibilities yourselves. Enjoy your weekend and, if you fancy it, let me know whether you have a Box and, if so, what you call yours.
A friend of mine told me she’d read one of my books (which is, of course, always a delight to hear) and then she mentioned the unexpected pleasure she got from ‘working out which bits all those questions referred to.’ Because I have a habit of posting questions on Facebook when I’m not sure of something, such as a correct job title, or the year in which a particular innovation came into being, and she, being a Facebook friend as well as a real-world one, had been following my various yelps for assistance.
Someone else advised me, during the process of writing the last book, that I could also count my research as book promo, because ‘it gets people talking about the book.’ All good, as well, but it also makes me wonder how on earth I or anyone else managed to cope before we had the Web to bail us out of all those maddening temporary halts when we can’t proceed at all until we can find out the difference between the day time and night time Number Nine bus route or some such bit of trivia.
Having been roundly teased for over a decade about a classic cockup I made in a very early novel (getting confused between two different types of computer game console) I’m possibly a little oversensitive to the possibility of making little errors here and there, but I know how much it annoys me when someone else puts something in a book that’s just… wrong. And I do prefer asking my mates rather than Just Fucking Googling It, as you never quite know what you might be getting with a Google, given the number of pranksters online. (Bernard Matthews did NOT play the saxophone solo on Baker Street and giant green lizards do NOT rule the world and Prince Philip isn’t one.)
(pic from newsbiscuit.com)
Mind you, given the number of pranksters among my friends, perhaps I should tread more carefully when asking them, as well. Catch you later, everyone, I’ve got to rush off and fact check something about Morris dancers…