An Angel Fallen Tour 2017
You know the situation. You’re talking to an author and all of a sudden they get ‘the look’: slack-jawed, glassy-eyed and generally vacant. There may be a scrabble for a phone, computer, or even pen and paper (remember those?) to write something down.
“You’re not listening to me, are you?”
“Listening? To you? Me? Of course I was. Just give me a sec while I jot this down.”
Anyone who’s been in the same room with an author (or, in my wife’s case, in the same bed) will know what I am talking about. I have visions (not when I’m in bed with my wife) of a room full of authors attempting to have conversations but missing every third sentence as they phase out for a moment.
What does this have to do with my own private guilt?
Allow me a moment of self-indulgence to quote myself. It’s a line from Rose - A Mother’s Unreason (The Lords of Misrule - Book Three), where the vice-president says:
“Guilt. It’s a useless emotion but a valuable currency.”
He’s right. Guilt in all its various guises and forms accomplishes nothing. We’re all aware of the big hitters when it comes to guilt - murder, infidelity, finishing the ice-cream while your kids’ backs are turned. What you may not know is that there are distinct forms of writers’ guilt, and I suffer from two of those.
One is easy to both see and understand - a lack of productivity. When my daily word count drops too low for too long, I feel guilty. That particular guilt is rampant at the moment, there’s so much going on outside of ‘regular’ writing, my word count is way, way down in the hole.
The other is a more specific type of writers’ guilt, one I haven’t spoken to anyone about. Before I do, let me explain a little about how an author’s brain works.
It’s common knowledge that whatever an author sees or hears may crop up in their work. That means that anything seen on the Internet, a TV clip, an image from a video, a song lyric, a cloud formation, a funny-shaped tree, a temper tantrum on the street, even a throw away comment, can all squirm their way onto the page. Here are a few examples:
- The first book I wrote (Franklin - a brother in search of himself) was created from a short story. That short story had been inspired by a sentence I’d called out to my young son: “Where’s your ray-gun gone, Ray?”
- A view of a London rooftop from a room I was teaching sports massage in became my short story A View.
- Sighthill in Edinburgh became Blind Mount and features together with Edinburgh Castle itself in my short story A Decision at Dusk.
- A vile post of two teenagers torturing a dog to death and then posting a selfie of it (Seriously? WTF!) on social media became the inspiration for my latest work - An Angel Fallen.
All well and good, but where is my guilt in that?
OK, here it is.
Basically, I am watching you. I am listening to you. I may even be smelling you. (That’s extreme, granted, but, in large cities, you can smell summer coming on public transport).
Whatever you say or do is fair game for my muse, and he is a hungry fellow.
It may only be a comment: “Guilt fixes nothing.” (Adapted from something my wife said.)
It may be the way you dress: “In a pink menagerie of petals and pearls.” (An osteopathic client I treated.)
It may be a characteristic you have: a friend of mine’s jaw opens diagonally (down and right) when in ‘raconteur mode’.
It may be the way you run: “Like your knees are allergic to your feet.” (A kid in a playground.)
It may be the way your neck “blends seamlessly with your mouth with no chin in the middle.” (That was someone I smelt on a tram in Prague. He also had a mullet, bald-patch and a comb-over. The guy deserves a medal.)
Bits and pieces of ‘life’ get stuck in my mind as images. They sit there, crammed in besides each other. I have tonnes of them jostling for space. I don’t ‘see’ these images all the time, but they pop up in certain situations.
I was trying to explain this to someone (My wife. In bed. We have all the best fun.) and the most logical explanation I could come up with was that it’s a little like a sprained ankle. When it’s acute, you feel it all the time. As it starts healing, you only feel it when you put it in certain positions or situations. The same thing happens with those images in my head. Under certain conditions, they re-appear. That is until I write them down. That tends to get rid of them. Then the guilt kicks in - the guilt for pilfering and picking bits of my friends’ conversations, clients’ dress sense and strangers’ mannerisms and turning it all into fodder for my books.
I have never blatantly copied anyone, and I don’t do this consciously, but I can usually place where, what, or who inspired certain sections of the text I’m writing.
There are better things to feel guilty about (or maybe not, if it is a useless emotion), but this is my particular brand of writers’ guilt.
There is good news. There is still hope for me. It is not terminal.
My most recent work (An Angel Fallen) was a much more guilt-free writing process. It is much less ‘derivative’ than earlier works. Besides the initial inspiration of the social media post (see above), the only other thing I know where the inspiration came from is gin.
The story features a useless, emotionally-vacant mother with an extensive gin collection. I have a friend in Prague who has an extensive gin collection. Fortunately, his similarity with the character starts and stops with their mutual friend ‘Mr Juniper’. But otherwise, An Angel Fallen has the least references to real life of all my work. It’s also the best thing I have written so far.
Maybe there’s a lesson there. Maybe I’m reading too much into it (correlation and causation are not the same thing!). But, suffice to say, be warned that whenever you are talking to an author, they are watching and listening, and, maybe, just maybe, smelling you.
Andy Graham Author Bio (June 2017)