I am fascinated by writers.
I’m not alone in this. Most writers or people who want to be writers are at least interested in the lives of other writers, which is why a lot of the people who read authors’ blogs are looking for writing advice and insights into their favourite authors’ processes. That’s what social media is for, isn’t it — communicating with your favourite writers? Twitter is like writer-bait. They’re everywhere.
I read on somebody’s blog that they decided to be a writer the day they realised there was a person behind the name on the front of the book, though I can’t now remember whose blog it was. I think a lot of people are the same: they decided to do this when they realised it was possible.
But a lot of normal people (you know, the kind who don’t write books) tell me that they rarely pay attention to who wrote a book. I mean, if it’s a name they recognise, they might pick it up, but they don’t really care who wrote it.
Me? I care. I’ve always cared.
I remember when I was reading The Hobbit for the first time at about the age of seven and, though I’m paraphrasing here, Tolkien said something about hobbits being able to hide when “big, stupid folk” like himself or readers came along. Far from taking offense that the narrator was calling me stupid, I grew indignant that Tolkien should even consider himself anything but a genius, because as far as I was concerned, he was. He wrote The Lord of the Rings! Seven-year-old me firmly believed that Tolkien was greater than Shakespeare and Virgil and all the others.
(It was a long time before I managed to separate “author” with “narrative persona” in anything but 1st person narratives. And even then, authors like Michael Morpurgo who always called all their protagonists Michael made it difficult.)
I’m bitterly disappointed when books don’t have an author biography at the back, because even if they have “managed to avoid all the really interesting jobs authors take in order to look good in this kind of biography” (Terry Pratchett, inside my copy of Good Omens), I’m fascinated by what led them from their life to that book. Why did they write it? The biography rarely gives me that information, but it’s worth a look. I like knowing what triggered the concept and how a book ended up happening. I like those author interviews they have at the book where they discuss that.
Oh, and I always read acknowledgements. I like noticing which authors always thank each other, and figuring out which of my favourites are critique partners with each other. I try and work out which writers are the common thread between two different ‘groups’.
Groups of writers are even more interesting than writers on their own. Throughout history, you just have to look at how they gather together, and interesting stories crop up. The Romantics — Keats, Byron and the Shelleys — and their scandalous shenanigans. Hemingway and Fitzgerald and James Joyce hanging out in Paris (Hemingway always struck me as the long-suffering one, putting up with Joyce’s drunken antics and Fitzgerald’s insecurities). Warning that these links are to Tumblr and therefore contain strong language.
You get groups like these among composers and artists, but I haven’t heard half so many good stories. I get the impression they sit there and flick paint / play piano at each other. Sometimes drunk.
And you know, I love these stories. I love learning about the friendship between Kit Marlowe and William Shakespeare. I love hearing about Byron taking a bear to Cambridge because you weren’t allowed a dog. I love these stories because they make the writers more real. And also because they’re hilarious.
Sometimes, in a somewhat egotistical manner, I wonder what people will think about me in the future. You know, assuming the whole writing thing works out. I wonder who I’ll be associated with, and whether they’re writers I know now or people I haven’t yet met. I wonder if anybody will try and figure out what exactly inspired my works.
I don’t have any great stories to tell yet. The parentals will be glad to know that my complete disinterest in alcohol and sex means I’m very unlikely to end up like Byron, but that does mean I’ll probably never live the kind of decadent lifestyle your English teachers don’t tell you about until sixth form.
At the same time, I can tell you exactly when I decided that the Death and Fairies trilogy should become a series, and I remember having a hilarious conversation with Charley at about 1am in Germany making up crossovers with our characters. I remember the moments when characters or scenes have come into my head, and the triggers for those. I remember when and where I wrote them down.
I remember writing the last section of the first draft of Forget My Wings sitting in the back seat of a car on the way to Scotland, emailing new chapters to Charley at every service station because emotional destruction waits for no man. I remember attempting a novel in my aunt’s flat in Edinburgh on a different trip to Scotland, and giving up. I remember having ideas in Ireland and scrawling them down with an aching hand because I didn’t know what else to do.
I remember taking an idea I’d come up with in January when I was walking home from school listening to The Small Print by Muse and combining it with the landscape I saw in the West of Ireland to create the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. I remember the room I stayed in with a family in France and how I used it in a scene from the final Death and Fairies book.
I remember how I met Charley online and how our first collaborations started, and I remember what my friends Cathryn and Charley have said to me at every stage of the Death and Fairies series. In the future I’ll remember the responses of my current beta readers and how that shapes what I write.
And I think this is fascinating. I love to hear it about other people: where did this come from? Interviewers get it wrong every time when they say to a writer, “Where do you get your ideas from?” because the answer is usually just, “From my head.”
It doesn’t matter where their ideas in general came from. It matters where that idea came from and also it matters where it took them, whether that was to Aberdeen or to the Cliffs of Moher or to France. Because it’s fascinating.
Writers are fascinating. Really, they are. After a while you’ve met so many people who want to be writers that you start to wonder if there’s anybody in the world who doesn’t want to write a novel, but it’s the writers who are more excited about their story than about the idea of ‘being a writer’ that are the ones to talk to, because you bet they’ll have stories to tell.
In ten, twenty, fifty years time, I wonder whether I’ll be part of a group of writers. And I wonder if my readers will look at the acknowledgements of my books and Charley’s books and figure, “Yeah, they totally hung out while writing this.” (I’m using Charley as an example because what with St Mall’s and all that, you guys have a vague idea who I’m talking about and it’s not just a name out of nowhere.)
Okay, so maybe I won’t take a bear with me to Cambridge — I checked, and they’ve tightened up on that. Also they are strict about blutack — but that doesn’t mean I won’t ever have stories.
I mean, the first time Charley and I met I was dressed as a knight …