Monday, 17 March 2008

That Eureka Moment

People often say to me, ‘It must be so satisfying to hold in your hand a book that you have written,’ and of course it is. It’s even nicer to see someone else hold it in their hand, though it’s probably best to keep your excitement to yourself. I once saw a woman reading one of one of my novels on a train. I hadn’t been a published writer very long at this point and I couldn’t restrain myself from going over to tell her that I was the author. She looked at me in alarm and, clearly convinced that I was some kind of pervert, began wordlessly backing away. Lesson learnt!

For me, the most satifying part of being a writer is not the finished product; it’s when the plot starts to come together in your head. You’ve had this idea for a while that seems as if it might turn into a novel, but up until now you’ve had no more than the starting point. Maybe it’s a character or a situation, a time or a place, or even just a mood. It doesn’t matter. You can feel it there, like an itch. Every now and again, you scratch it. But it doesn’t go away.

Then one day, you’re sitting on a bus, or in a cafĂ© or getting your hair cut and gears start shifting in you head. Perhaps it’s something somebody sitting opposite you just said; or perhaps it’s the colour of the wall you’re staring at. Whatever the reason, a big lump of plot starts rising to the surface of your mind, like a shipwreck being released from the depths of the ocean after years of silently gathering barnacles.

This lump of plot – I can’t think of a better way to describe it – is usually partly made up of your own experiences. You find yourself thinking, ‘Yes, of course! Like the time I was in Amsterdam and I lost my wallet and I met that French guy; my character, loses his wallet and then he goes back to the place he last remembers having it and there’s this French guy who says to him….’ And so it goes on.

I love that experience. But that’s still not the best bit. For me, the reall thrill is when two or more lumps of plot suddenly come to the surface. You don’t necessarily see the details of how they’re going to fit together, at least not immediately. You just know they are going to, and that the whole big stew of possibilities that’s been simmering away in your imagination for all these weeks is actually going to turn into a viable story.

I get so excited when this happens, I rush to the nearest computer to get down as much of it as I can while it's still fresh. Once, I was in the bath and I jumped out without waiting to even wrap a towel around myself. (Don’t try and visualise it!) I rushed into my study but the moment I put my wet foot on the polished floorboards, my leg arced out from beneath me and I came down on the ground with an almighty thump. I knew right away that I’d broken my ankle. But it didn’t stop me. I crawled over to the desk, pulled myself up onto the chair and began hammering away at the keyboard. Only after I’d got it all down, did I ring for a cab to take me to Accident and Emergency.

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