Thoughts On Stories and Writing
It's interesting the way that stories sometimes come to you whole. When that happens, you don't really have to write them, you just write them down. Steven King, in his excellent book 'On Writing' says that stories exist before you write them. You just have to dig down, like an archeologist and uncover them! My writing hero Somerset Maugham never told how he wrote stories, but he did publish an interesting 'Writer's Notebook', in which he recounts many of the events from his life, and how he developed those ideas into stories.
Like many people, I don't like going to the dentist. But they used to give me nitrous, which helped a lot. You were still awake, but you would dream vividly, and hardly notice what they were doing. So each time they gave me nitrous, I had a continuing story that ran like a movie. In this story, which I called Mad Rivers, I had a whole alternative life:
I live in a little town in Oregon. The Mad River tumbles down through the town, cold and clear from the high mountains. I am a novelist, successful in my own way, and live some way out of town. I wear jeans and a black tee shirt all the time, and boots. The boots depend on what season it is. I used to drive an old green Land Rover Defender, but traded that in for a black Land Rover Discovery, which matches my black Labrador called Bess. I have had Bess from a puppy, and she loves to come with me in the car.
Most days I find my way into town for lunch. I usually go to Mad Rivers, a restaurant and bar in a substantial redwood wooden building on the edge of town, beside the river. My favorite spot for lunch is on the big wooden deck, and Bess lays beside me in the sun. I take a notebook with me and make notes for stories. I have several friends who know they can usually find me at Mad Rivers at lunch time, and they often turn up for lunch or a beer.
That's as far as the story goes so far. Nowadays I take my iPod to the dentist, so no more nitrous. I really should see what happens next!
I started writing stories when I was seven years old, at Tettenhall College boarding school, near Wolverhampton. I had a small hardback notebook, and in that I wrote several pretty good stories, and at least one long poem. I remember that it began, "I'm a naughty boy, a haughty boy, always getting cane. Running away from big boys, escaping down the lane." Now I doubt that I was 'haughty' at seven years old! Then one day my teacher found my notebook, and took it to the staff room to show the other teachers. I never got it back.
I am probably distantly related to James Kirkup, the well-known gay writer, translator and poet. Although we have never been able to find the connection, he looks like me and my dad. He was over 90 when he died in Andorra recently. He wrote me some lively letters!
I was much encouraged to write by George Fenby, my English teacher at TP Riley school, Walsall, at the age of about 13. George was an American, from Los Angeles. I have no idea what he was doing in a minor state comprehensive school in the midlands. Each week for English homework, I would write a story, which he would read aloud to his other classes. Older kids would come up to me in the playground, and say, "Your submarine story was really good, Kirkup!" (Always great to get good feedback!) George used to give me John Le Carre books to read, then question me closely about the plot.