False flag

the-next-false-flag

It’s surprisingly hard to find an image for ‘false flag’ that isn’t horribly conspiracy-theoryist. Please accept this as a non-endorsatory compromise

The Muse doesn’t deliver whole stories. She delivers fragments: pieces, threads, ingredients. These fragments are usually a result of living an active, out-looking life, open to new worlds and new ways of thinking. Stories come from rotating these ideas, rolling them into stranger forms and melding them in concert with other concepts. And one idea can lead to others, a thought-trail that snowballs into coherent narrative.

I didn’t even realise it myself, but recently I’ve been playing with the concept of a ‘false flag’ operation. I think it was something that rolled into my head via American politics (and isn’t that a novelworthy car-crash in itself right now) and has lingered in the back of my mind for months. I’m currently spinning the geneses of three novels in my brain but no idea which to develop: I’ve gone a far as to make initial notes for all. Into which do I add this false flag? All of them? The idea could work in any context (for the record: Victorian fens, contemporary Brittany and near-future ‘urban’).

This is where the subconscious comes into its own. I have so many idea-fragments turning in my mind that sheer momentum is creating links where I wasn’t aware of any. Not enough ideas for three novels, perhaps, but maybe one. The trick is to keep adding to the bank, keep pouring stock into the mixer until the soup begins to thicken, the lumps simultaneously agglomerate and become smooth, and you can separate out the bits not needed and put them in the fridge for future culinary experimentation.

At the moment I can’t see what kind of meal I’m trying to make. But the bases are there. And I took another leap forwards the other night, in bed, when the false flag gained a political context and a couple of twists arrived semi-fully-formed in my mind. Of course I found I’d forgotten the details when I woke the next morning but the taste remained, and remains.

The downside is that, if I use the false flag in one novel (the Breton one, if you’re curious) I can’t use it in the others.

Or can I?

To the subconsciousmobile!

Graft

I am not special. I am not a genius. My characters don’t keep me up at night, conversing, nattering, telling me their life stories. I am one of nature’s grafters, trying to compensate for my lack of natural talent with hard work and a furrowed brow.

Writing is an unusual thing. Take a glance at Twitter, or do a search for author quotes: I’m betting you’ll find in short order quotes on the lines of ‘writer’s block is when your invisible friends stop talking to you’; ‘I don’t create, I merely eavesdrop of the voices in my head’. I’ve been reading about the phenomenon of voice-hearing and it makes me rather sad that I don’t seem to have this faculty. I’m sure I used to. Somewhere in the last ten years I lost it.

I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake. I’m just a middle-aged white cisgender male who has yet to achieve anything worth singing about. I have no Muse – which is decidedly not the same as inspiration, of which I have plenty, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I have got things done. I have written seven novels, some of them worth the effort of creation. It’s been a strong contention of mine that too much attention is given to the nebulous and unexplained phenomenon that is ‘genius’ and not enough to the achievements born of submersing oneself into a field and working damn hard. I say again: I am a grafter. I’m proud of that.

All these awards for ‘best first novel’, ‘best first writer’; shouldn’t we also celebrate the most improved novelist? Can’t we tell more from a third novel than a (possibly) flash-in-the-pan debut? Can you sustain the pressure? Can you make a career out of an artform?

I’m not grumpy about this – or at least no grumpier than I am about the rest of modern life. I’m merely musing Muselessly. But I’d be very interested in your experiences. When you’re writing do you hear your characters talking to you, telling you what to write? Or do you have to poke them with sticks and lead them by the nose to get them to get off their fat asses and act?