“Where does it all come from?” runs that favourite query of literary festival audiences. “Where do you get your ideas and your inspiration?”
Oh dear, I’ve always dreaded that question. I can answer anything, literally anything at all, about the writing process. I can talk at length on word counts, publishers, how to get an agent - but this one has always stumped me.
Writing in my own blog, which I started just recently in the run-up to the publication of my new novel The Pindar Diamond, I seem – bizarrely – to have written more entries about walking my dog than about the process of writing.
It seemed quite entertaining at the time – certainly more immediately entertaining (to me, anyway) than trying to write about the ‘good agony’ that is writing and publishing a novel, which might seem off-puttingly earnest when written down in black and white. But reading back over them I realise that perhaps it’s not so much the dog as the walking that’s the key.
I need to walk. I need the space that it creates inside my head. I need to create the space - as I heard Paul McCartney once say of his song writing - ‘for the tunes to fall into’.
And walking is the perfect medium. It is a day-dreamy, freefalling sort of state. You are wide awake, but not concentrating on anything in particular; you are alone with your thoughts, but not trying to marshal them in any particular way. It creates, rather like staring out of a train window, a very mild form of self-hypnosis. And, for me, that’s when things start to happen.
A novel is the sum of everything you know. It’s everything you’ve read, everyone you’ve loved or hated, everywhere you’ve been. It’s the sum of everything you are. In short it’s the process of accessing those things – those memories, feelings, experiences, dreams - that’s the real mystery.
I’ve just found a book by Norman Mailer on my bookshelves, a collection of observations about the process of writing called The Spooky Art.
Spooky? Too true.
Writing, especially fiction writing, is spooky sometimes, scary even, because you are never quite sure what your subconscious is going to come up with.
It was another Beatle - John Lennon, I think - who said something like ‘life is what happens when you are making other plans’. Could it be that novels are what happen when you’re walking the dog?
For more on Katie Hickman see her Bloomsbury Publishing page
Image credit: Neil Bennett
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