Having been tagged in the blog-hop-tag – a blog designed to encourage a bit of self-reflection – here’s my attempt at identifying three things I typically do and don’t do in my fiction.
Three Things I don’t write:
Stories about real people. This isn’t because I object to the idea, there are some great works out there by writers fictionalising the lives of real people, such as Stephen Volk’s recently acclaimed ‘Whitstable’ which focuses on the life of Peter Cushing. I’ve had a story on the go for a long time about a real Renaissance artist but I keep engineering ways to distance myself from telling the story from their perspective, though that was my original intention. I enjoy historical fiction, which often centres on a real figure from history, but since I’ve been writing, I’ve been less inclined to read this genre. Perhaps it’s just a matter of changing taste, or that, despite the most meticulous research on the part of the writer, I find the idea of authenticity problematic. It has certainly been a stumbling block in my own work and why I tend to keep fiction and non-fiction in separate camps.
Stories set in America. Though I lived in Rhode Island for six months, I haven’t as yet set a story in the U.S. I suppose one of my concerns is using the correct Americanisms and conveying an authentic sense of place and character. There are lots of English writers who set stories in America with American characters extremely well. Ray Cluley especially springs to mind (he’s getting a lot of mentions) and I can certainly see the appeal. The influx of American speculative fiction was very important for a lot of current English writers growing up, and it is equally hard now not to be influenced by American culture. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but in the same way that I was conscious of my Englishness when I lived on the East Coast, (drinking too much tea was a dead give away!) I think my narrative voice is bound up, at least in part, to where I’m from.
Social media and technology as a significant aspect of story. People who know me, will know about my general ineptitude with social media and technology. It’s not that I dislike them but that I feel more at home with other forms of communication. I think I am part of a dying breed of letter writers, my illustrative work is produced using a Victorian printing press as opposed to digital software, and I could spend months (as I have done) without access to the Internet. Still, social media provides lots of possibilities for writers. John Ajvide Linddqvist’s Little Star springs to mind, a story that merges aspects of the modern, (especially the use of social media) with themes that derive from an older, more fairytale-esque place. It’s an absolutely brilliant read. As a writer, I tend to look to the past for inspiration but perhaps I should consider looking at the now and start facing some of my technological fears.
Three Things I do write:
Intertextuality. I love reading stories that refer to other stories. If you read a lot, it’s hard not to notice trends or similarities, and I particularly enjoy stories that do this in a self-referential way. It doesn’t have to be so overt as a retelling or rewriting, though I certainly enjoy those kinds of stories (I’m thinking Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea) but I also like stories that make more subtle references to other texts. My first story ‘Ulterior Design’ published in Black Static, drew on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (it’s hard not to when writing a story about wallpaper!) But I’ve also alluded to Jane Eyre in my story ‘Namesake’ (also published in Black Static and recently republished in Best British Horror) and to the story of Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in my story ‘The Quiet Room’ which appeared in Shadows and Tall Trees. Certainly from a reader’s perspective, these little hints, allow for a more involved reading. I for one, enjoy a bit of a mental workout when I read.
Enclosed spaces. It’s a common enough horror trope but I’m obsessed with rooms, particularly rooms that are hard to get to, locked or concealed. I’m quite a visual writer and forming a very concrete space in my mind is important for the process of storytelling. I even collect images from magazines of rooms and locations to help literally construct these spaces. An earlier Shadows and Tall Trees offering ‘Senbazuru’ was set in a circular turret-like room, that explored ideas about mental spaces, as well as the physical and alluded to Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (more intertextuality!) Other stories, like ‘Making Room’ on the This is Horror site, focus specifically on the possibly problematic notion of letting other people into your private space.
Wordplay. I like words (which is handy) and can spend ages trying to pick the right ones. I enjoy this process and my mind can’t seem to help making leaps to other words, based on semantics or phonology, so that I often have lots of things going on in my head. In person I’m often guilty of the using the occasional malapropism – I think of this now as my mind sifting through to the word it wants – which is why I think I like writing so much (at least with writing you can edit!) My story ‘Namesake’ allowed me to indulge in my love of wordplay. I had great fun writing it and I’ve just finished a story that took this concept a step further, focusing on linguistics and etymology.