Monday, 17 November 2014

Ideas and Creative Research: A Novelist's View

Last Thursday night one of the readers in a crowded library workshop asked a familiar question,. Where do you get you
r ideas? Do you ever run out of ideas?

My ideas come from everywhere I go, everyone I see, every  thing I see. Twentieth century history is often involved.  Ideas will settle into a special pocket in my mind and stay almost unnoticed, lying there like pieces of coral slowly accreting further ideas and other images and becoming things of innate power and intricate potential. These images and ideas might come from books I read, films I see, newspaper accounts, letters, objects I notice at an auction or a car-boot sale.

Then later – sometimes years later –one of these ideas will swim to the surface of my mind etched all over with an urgent request that now is the time to write. Now is the time to plunge into the idea with instinctive writing and proceed to find a place for the story  and to enhance and inhabit the story with characters. Now is the time for purposeful creative research to fix a time and a psychological frame for the story.

This simultaneous creative search will involve histories, timelines, biographies, first person accounts, library, museum and art gallery visits as well as location visits with drawing book or camera in hand. All this allows me to see the world through the eyes of my characters in their time and place and permits the story to develop its own authentic reality.

Once all this is bedded down in my conscious and subconscious mind, then I can go forward and write and write so that the novel can blossom into a whole thing, ready for the more normal proofing and editing process.

By now, having taken that leap into fiction, the original idea has evolved into and entirely different thing, unique in itself. In the meantime another idea is down there in the brain pocket accreting its own associated ideas and images…

A few years ago, as a Christmas present, my daughter gave me two paintings that she;d picked up at a London auction. They are pale, understated water colours: one is of a beach with gypsy family on holiday with a book about Van Gogh sitting on what looks like a painter’s stool; the other is  a hut filled with bunks and draped with washing, occupied by pale men. The date is` 1955. The artist is named. By New Years Day a strong  idea about these paintings and this painter clearly settled down into my brain pocket.

Years later this idea has bobbed up with all sorts of new ideas stuck to it; it is already inhabited by two characters. I have now almost completed  the creative research and begun writing what I think will be a short novel involving this idea.
Here we go again. It’s not just the ideas. It’s what you do with them.

Extract:'...Now the three older Romany boys had abandoned their ballgame and begun to turn hands-free somersaults on the sand. One boy managed to do four somersaults ins succession and Maggie couldn’t resist clapping. The men stopped playing cards and looked across at her, unsmiling. The somersaulting stopped. The smallest of the boys ran to stand beside his mother who was sitting under her own canopy, embroidering something wrapped in a white cloth...' 

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