I’ve often wondered if the way I write, the way I see things, hear things, notice detail, all those things that end up in the final cut, get there through the same process as other writers? What’s this thing, the whatchamacallit, you know, that thing they call the creative process, what exactly is that thing?
I ask because I’ve often little idea about what I’m going to write. Is that too big an admission? Surely I’m not flying a solitary flag on a chill breeze, there must be other writers working in the same way? Okay, maybe not. Let me start again. What I mean is, if I start writing with an inkling of an idea (I don’t have the audacity to hint at something with the grandeur of plot), the idea’s oft to go awry and change at very short notice (please don’t say I’m alone on that one). I know there are writers out there who plot to the n-th degree. That’s not me, I assure you, and it’s not the way I work. It’s not the way my mind’s wired.
Maybe I should go back a bit (queue Bill and Ted’s wavy, going back in time, dance – blibble-blibble bblibble bblibble-bblibble cos that’s the sound going back in time makes and if you don’t think so you’ve watched Back to the Future too many times!).
There was a time, way back in my writing past, where I’d get all shocked and upset when a story veered off the way marked path (as Higgs would say, “Yer walkin’ long the feckin’ tourist route there”). I’d scream, “Story, I know best. I know how you started and I know how you’re ending, I even know the bits in the middle so, for god’s sake, you’re gonna do as I say, dig it?”
Way back then, I was pretty much daring the story to take a life of its own, ‘cause I were god amongst those ribbon-worn words. If I wanted to put a character in an impossible situation, a situation that would see the character come to a sticky end, then that character better live with it and woe betide if he, or she, found a way to cheat the plot, and cheat death. I hated those clever little characters the most – they were always looking for holes that I couldn’t see, but holes they’d find, little chinks in plot that allowed their escape, and they’d do it, oh, so easy. God damn the clever ones to hell...it’s always the clever ones that don’t wanna play ball, don’t you think?
And – after a mini zen meditative pause – we’re back in the room...
Back then, all those many years ago (well, twenty summin’ years ago, anyway), I couldn’t have the story dictating to me (me, the storyteller, of all people), I was the one in control (like hell ya were, hoss) and I’d go over the stuff I’d written and launch at it with my great big wooden mallet and editing chisel – knocking bits off, shaving a corner (or three) down to size, and hacking away until the whole piece of writing had been cajoled in to place. Only, it hadn’t really, had it? All that remained was the proverbial square peg in the proverbial round hole. The resulting story was one, out of place, lonely, and contemptible, piece of self-righteous shite.
The story may have been the perfect fit, but at what cost? Well, let me tell you the cost. The cost of all that weighty editing and cajoling was the flow of the prose itself. The thing that was wrong was the very thing that I (and all writers) needed right. So (and this took me a long time to realise) with all my best intention I hadn’t made a really good (not even half-way descent) fit at all – not one stinking, goddamn, bit of it was a fit. From all the effort (writing and re-writing), all I’d managed to do was singlehandedly ruin the flow of something that really – if I’m honest here – knew how to flow like it should flow without my clumsy intervention. Leave well alone, you – you thinking you’re the typing god of Ribbon World (cos, really, yer don’t know Jack ‘bout nuttin’).
Ready Higgs, standing in the wings...
Aye, this is where I come in, right round now. See, he started hearing me voice. Not well rounded, not right ‘way. No, Sir. Took me a lot o’shoutin’ to get heard, let me tell ya. He only hear me good now and ‘gain. You see it. Know’s what I’m sayin’? ‘E’s the one that know’s it, the one that ‘ears it.
Yer see, I gives him bits, little stuff to take home, stuff to put down through his fingers on t’page. Now an’ then, he don’t need no worry, cos he sees it ‘imself...when he does that, he’s pretty much good to go a whole load on ‘is own. I let ‘im loose some. What he might need, and need more often than not, is a good ‘ard talkin’ to. Sometimes there’s big stuff that goes right on pass ‘is ‘ead. That’s when ‘es a stupid ole fecker, right there, when he misses stuff. Might be stuff lit up like the mother of neon signs, don’t matter, he’s apt to miss it. No need to worry, I’ll call on ‘im as good as anyone. “Oi, yer twat, you miss it good a proper!” ‘Tis what I say and he listen to me. Don’t always mean he’ll put it in, mind. No Sir. Just means I got ‘is ‘ttention. Sometimes he’d turn his ear from the big chief in the sky ‘imself – and it wouldn’t take ‘im much doin’ at that. Turn ‘is ear and (blah, blah,blah) he’d pretend not to hear – whatever suits I’m, ‘tis what I say. “Look, Higgs, Hemingway said something like ‘If you show a gun on a wall, you better use it.’ Don’t go telling me stuff that’s of no use.” And, I say, “Whatever suits yer best, Hoss.” Yer can’t drag no tramp t’water an’ make ‘im wash. Only, sometimes, I gotta say, most when he’s lost ‘is way, “Yer looking for that gun on the wall ain’t cha, the one I told yer ‘bout?” It’s nice to be smug.
Alright, Higgs, you’ve had your say. Now, go swoosh your clicking ice in the whisky someplace else, far enough away so I can’t smell those stinking Marlboro cigarettes of yours.
So, Higgs came along and things changed. Higgs, he’s the one that sits in my ear when I’m writing. Calls himself a mews - maybe he is. I’ve learnt to listen to Higgs. He ain’t well educated, and he’s got one hell of an accent (that I have to edit out), but he’s lived his goddamn life like you wouldn’t believe. Higgs has squeezed two or three lives in his sixty or so years. Oh yeah, I should mention, Higgs is just over twenty years my senior. In short, what he hasn’t seen ain’t worth writing about. Higgs is quite happy to tell other peoples stories, ain’t so keen to tell his own though. It’s one way of getting him off my back. All I’ve got to say is, “Right, Higgs, let’s get out a bit of your story then” and, don’t it go all quiet.
Higgs has his quiet times. Times where he’s got to go off and disappear. It can’t be good when the only channel you’ve got to get your stories out is this forty-something bloke that don’t always listen. When I can’t hear Higgs, those times he’s gone off, I know it’s bad for him. He’s bipolar, has to take the time out to get himself right. It doesn’t really matter that he’s gone, ‘cause I know that when he comes back, he’s manic. Higgs and manic ain’t pretty, let me tell you. When he’s manic, there’s hardly enough hours in the day to get his stories out. When he’s like that, I’ve got to do sketches of stories. That’s how Higgs wants to work. “Yer just gotta listen, right. I’ll tell ya the basic, get them’s out the way first. Then comes the devil of the detail later, when I’m good and ready,” is what he says, and that’s pretty much how things develop.
From the rough sketch, Higgs goes on to tell his stories. Only, I’ve learnt not to get in his way. If he veers from his sketch, he’s got reason to. Let him go for it, and I might even say, “yer walkin’ long the feckin’ tourist route there, Higgs,” right back at him.
So, to Higgs (my bipolar muse), keep them coming matey, it’s been good working with you.
If you’re ever in Wallichi, on the wrong side of the river with the smell of river tug diesel in your hair, go find Constance Drive. About half way up, near the bus shelter and the wrecked public phone booth, you’ll see Sam’s 24/7 store. Either Sam or his wife Rita will be behind the counter. Say a friend sent you. Say you’re looking for Higgs. They’re likely to tell you where he’s at. Course, as soon as the bell above the door’s rattled you a goodbye, they’ll be phoning Higgs, telling him someone’s on the way. Don’t let that put you off. Go say hello to the big chap, mention me and ask if he’s got a story to tell. If he offers you a whisky, take it, and put your feet up ‘cause you’re gonna be there some time.