Where does a story come from? Each of us has own own personal story. A series of moments made up of triumph and tragedy. If we look back at our lives we can link each step together and sometimes we can understand how we got to where we are today. Sure some of it is luck and timing, for those elements are a part of everyone’s story. But it is the choices we make and the ones we have no say in, our reaction and response that counts. Our action or inaction. Good or bad. We drive our personal stories forward by decisions and it is the same with characters in a book. We may love them or hate them. But they are fallible, like you and I. They are human. Imperfect.
Every year I sit down to write another novel and hope to conjure something from the ether. At least, that is how it may appear. But little threads of narrative are already taking hold in my subconscious as I finish the previous work. There is the seed of a story sitting in the back of my mind, but I have to ignore it. I place another shovel of dirt on the top of it like the good gardener I would like to be and walk away. There is a time for germination and frankly there is no way it is going to grow untill the current work is completed. Then I close down.
This is hibernation time. A period to reflect on the year and the book that has been and is probably yet to be released and the new one that is waiting in the wings. At the moment it’s only a hope. A dream of an idea. A bit like a fledging actor readying to take those first hesitant steps onto the stage. An actor who hasn’t yet got the part. When I do start writing I take the view that I’m beginning a marathon. And like a marathon I have hopefully done my preparation. I have rested, exercised and eaten well. I have gone on holidays. Thought about other things and visited new places. And then I start my research and as I’m exploring, examining, seeking. Reading, reading, reading. I’m watering that little seed in the back of my mind. Then I set-up my whiteboard.
To me story-telling is as important as eating. Stories fill us up, open new worlds and help to explain the unexplainable. And they also help to explain us. When someone asks who you are or what you do, you tell your personal story. When you are telling someone about yourself you are drawing on your past events – your history, and then putting that in the context of where you are today and where you’re going. Which is probably one of the reasons why I enjoy writing historical fiction. We have to understand and learn from the past to go forward in the present.
In Greek, mythos means story and they told some beauties. When we think of myths or mythic stories we are talking about stories that were thought up simply to explain how the world evolved and who was in it, at least that is what the Greek poet Hesiod says. Hesiod was around during Homer’s time and he made a name for himself by writing about a world full of Gods. If you know your Greek history then you’ll also know that there was a lot of them. There was a god for everything and they ran everything. Murder, mayhem, jealousy, love, sacrifice. They were vain and always seemed to be bickering about something. And they were also very human. In those days we had to offer up prayers and gifts to try and keep them happy.
What those great Greek myths did, much like Shakespeare and Austen and a whole canon of literary greats is explore what it means to be human. And for me that’s where the first seed for a new book comes from. A single character and a single event. Good stories shine a light on the human condition. They must be more than a series of obstacles that the character crashes through – or doesn’t, they must be about the choices and the decisions made. They must be relateable for after all they’re about people, like us.