I’ve just read a very interesting blog, ‘A slow day in the office’, by my friend Andrew Simpson, historian and author:
Andrew posted several of his very good black and white photos which would look good on the wall of any exhibition, and then told the story behind them – why he took the pictures and a little about the background to taking them, but the main thrust of his story was writing and how ideas come and what he does with them.
I guess maybe its because we’re such old friends, and talk so frequently about writing – and inspiration, that it’s not surprising that we are similar – not in what we write, but how our stories start as seeds of an idea and grow. His stories are factual, reflecting his past, our past and the past. Mine are total fiction although often with inspiration triggered by something I’ve seen – mine are mental snapshots, not actual!
For example, the story of ‘Night Vision’ had been percolating for some time, inspired by a house where we stayed in Derbyshire… except it wasn’t exactly the house – it had been built maybe in the late 1890’s adjacent to the rock face of a worked out quarry. From a back window was the most remarkable sight, a stunted tree growing out of the rocks in a tortuous way which looked like a man – a man suspended as if in sacrifice! I was intrigued by this, and if you like, I have a mental snapshot of it which triggered the idea for the story. The characters in the story also have a snapshot: I was in a lift with several other people, all strangers and it stopped unexpectedly. Like true Brits we stood in silence and as we looked at each other my eyes met those of a man – and I can remember nothing else about him apart from his dark eyes. We held each other’s gaze for a couple of seconds, and then looked away, he raising his gaze to the lights indicating which floor we were on, and me to our fellow travellers. The lit started we all got out on our particular floors without exchanging a word, and I was left with an impression of dark eyes holding mine for a couple of seconds. Obviously, there were a lot more ‘snapshots’ which formed the story – my aunty as a girl climbing trees, a character on TV, a boatyard… but the tree and the dark eyes man, that’s what started it!
Sometimes one tiny observed detail can trigger not just a whole person, but their character, their situation, and lead on to a whole story… Imagine an obviously shy, nervous, fat young man, standing dithering in an ill-lit corridor, alone and indecisive. The camera pans in on him, an anxious face, bearded and with a fringe, as if trying to hide behind his hair… but the snapshot is not of that, it’s the close up of his hand. His suit is too big for him, even though he’s chunky, and it makes him look fatter. The sleeves are too long, so his fingers peep out like a school boy’s on the first day at secondary school… and the image of the cuff and his fingers is the snapshot! it tells all!
Here’s a link to ‘Night Vision’:
… and a link to the Radwinter stories, because of course, the fat young man is Thomas Radwinter! The six novels about him show his transformation from that nervous schoolboy, to a mature adult, a husband and father and most recently described by his loving wife as ‘bumptious’!
My featured image… another snapshot!