A Happy Medium

There's an article by Buggerlugs Billingham* up on the Mystery Circus about authors who believe they're channelling the voice of their characters:

"I cannot abide those writers who go out of their way to make what we do sound deeply magical. Those who, in doing so, mystify the craft of writing, going so far as to suggest that it is a vocation rather than a job. Whether it's talk of muses, or of an almost supernatural possession by one's own characters, it always strikes me as bogus."

A good article, if a little short on profanity. He went off on a similar rant when we did that thing in Greenwich, and very funny it was too.

Me? I don't believe in that channelling bollocks any more than he does. How the hell do you commune with the spirit of a fictional character? At least if it were a real person you could make some sort of questionable argument for 'contact from beyond the grave', but for someone you made up? It's even worse than those Victorian table rappers -- by which I don't mean people born between 1837 and 1901, wearing their baseball caps the wrong way round and shouting out crap poetry. And what's with all the groin grabbing? Stop it now! You don't look hard and manly, you look like that greasy sex-offendery bloke who hangs around outside ASDA in a dirty tracksuit rubbing himself -- knock twice on the table if you want to pick up the gun, three times if you want to sleep with the big-chested blonde from chapter three...

But I do believe that writing isn't a completely conscious activity. I do some reading, do some research, do some mind-map-style free-form plotting, then go away and think for a bit. Then, usually when I'm trying to do something else -- like got to sleep, or hold a séance to channel the spirit of Marilyn Monroe's bra fitter -- a line, or scene, or chunk of dialogue will appear twixt my ears. It'd be an 'as if by magic' moment if I hadn't put in all that pre-work. It's just my subconscious finally catching up with the fact it's got some bloody work to do.

This is also why I'll suddenly find, five chapters later why I did that thing with the guy and the thing that looks like the first thing, but isn't. The back of my head's probably been telling me all along, I've just been too thick to pick up on it till now.

The thing is: it isn't a constant. I'm finding that the more I write, the more I'm writing with the front of my head. It takes a lot more conscious thought than it used to, but I hope the writing's better for it. That it'll take less editing to polish it to an acceptably shiny surface. One you can see your face in, if not eat your dinner off.

There are two characters in the books -- The Bastard Simon Rennie and WPC Jackie Watson -- who always bicker. I don't have to think about it, or plan it, they just do it automatically. With other characters I have to plan what they say, but this pair are a doddle. Put them in an enclosed space and they nip each other's heads. No idea why. My best guess is that I know the characters well enough, or they're so similar to someone I know, but the front of my brain has forgotten all about, that the little grey cells just fall into the a grove and the writing's automatic. But you never know.

Maybe I should get myself a headscarf, some dangly golden earrings and a crystal ball after all? I've got the legs for it. Are you there Marilyn's Bra Boy, grope once for yes and twice for no...

* He likes me to call him that because he sells many, many more books than I do and thinks it'll stop me spitting in his drinks at Harrogate.