I retired as a pub landlord five months ago and have been working to develop myself as a writer. The technical side of this is not as much of a challenge as deciding who I want to be as a writer.
I started my working life as a journalist and have dabbled in writing ever since so getting words down on paper in a form that makes sense is something I can do. There are things I have to work on – making sure I show rather than tell, developing characters that are fully rounded and believable and have a back story (even when I don’t share that with the readers) and remembering that the scenes I can see in my head need to be fully described to the reader who cannot be expected to be telepathic. However I’ve always been quite good at plots as my mind naturally sees and makes connections and structures. For the other things I need a combination of practice and patient and insightful first readers who can spot what I was trying to say and tell me honestly if I haven’t achieved that and why.
The struggle is in deciding what constitutes a “Tim Anderson” story. If the story is not true to me then I can’t expect it to ring true to anyone else. I want to write stuff that will sell but not just be aimed at a particular commercial market.
Part of the clue is to think about which authors I like. There is something of a challenge there too as I have always read widely and eclectically – I’ve reviewed nearly 3000 books on Goodreads.com and still have a long way to go to list everything I’ve read and own. There are some big themes there – science fiction and fantasy, ‘Pataphysics and the whole strand of exterist and avant agrde prose (have a look at atlaspress.co.uk for examples), postmodern writers and non fiction about sociology, the use and impact of IT and technology, mythology, history, and more. That is what I read, however not why I read them.
So who are my favourite authors and why? The short list would be:
- Alfred Jarry – for his imagination, humour, iconoclasm, and the welding together of seemingly disparate concepts into art
- Boris Vian – for much the same reason
- Philip Jose Farmer – for his unbridled imagination and game playing as well as his sense of humour
- Fritz Leiber – for his humour (I sense a theme here) and reinvention of the horror story in an urban setting shot through with tremendous humanity
- Peter S Beagle – for his humour (inevitably) and bringing out the joy of the mundane world in fantasy and horror contexts
- Avram Davidson – for the sheer joy of his prose and complexity of his plots, as well as the enormous erudition
- Terry Pratchett – for his humour, humanity, and (again) writing stories about real people and real problems in a fantasy context.
- The duo who transcend the pulp detective genre – Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler
- P.G.Wodehouse – for the way his plots are like an enormously complex domino rally and the joy of his dialogue
What this tells me is that I want to write stories that combine: humour (although not necessarily at a surface level of being “funny” – more at the meta level of the plot); realism in terms of the characters and real issues we all have to face; fantasy, science fiction, horror or mystery genres; and a complex created world to set them in – not necessarily a fantasy or science fiction one, but a version of the world that is mine.
Watch this space to see how I get on.