Inspiration – and its alternatives

As some of you may have spotted I’m doing a project during lockdown to write a story a week based on people’s suggestions. These will be published as a book when the crisis is over with the profits going to a local food bank.

It has been a fascinating experience in terms of its impact on my creativity. The first change being it forces me to sit down and write as, even in lockdown, there are other things which I could be doing and which are less challenging than writing.

The other thing that is a bit of a revelation is that the initial seed of “genre, character, location” is all I need to come up with a story that works reasonably well. Not that I should be that surprised when I think of the way constraints encourage creation within OuLiPo and the interesting results of the Surrealist experiments with automatic writing and their Exquisite Corpse game. I am also reminded of Harlan Ellison’s experiments sitting in a bookshop window and writing story after story for the customers.

Part of the creative process has also been thinking “that is the sort of story X might write” X being one of my literary heroes. In my first real job as a journalist on the Shields Gazette, colleagues and I would fill in quiet times of the day with what we called Two Finger Exercises (referring to the number of fingers we used to type, of course). We would write news stories in the style of a famous author. Not all of our parodies were successful but it was great fun.

One of the story prompts I was given was a one armed salmon poacher on the Wye river. The Wye rising in Wales, and that being the home of Rhys Hughes – who wrote one of my favourite parodies of all time in “Crash -With Shopping Trollies – I did a homage to him using elements of the plots from Moby Dick and Casablanca. The latter was because my mind threw out the phrase “we’ll always have Powys.”

Another Welsh location I was given was the Brecon Beacons and the characters were a T Rex and a Brontosaurus. As the dinosaurs were named after the suggester’s children I tried ti make the story age appropriate, but ended up with a story inspired by Italo Calvino’s T Zero tales and Roy Lewis’ The Evolution Man.

As I was worried I would not be able to keep to my commitment if no-one made any suggestions I have also been working through my story ideas file and writing up some of those. Many started as just a title or a character or some other nugget of inspiration, and have since been added to as other ideas popped into my head followed by the thought: “That would work well with that.” I’m not worried I run out any time soon as I tend to add at least one story seed a week and I have a few dozen to work through without adding any at all.

If you have any thoughts for the Lockdown Stories though, email them to me at timnewtonanderson@hotmail.co.uk or message me via my Facebook page Tim Newton Anderson. Cheers.

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