Telling Stories

There is a misrepresentation of writers and poets, that we sit down at our laptops, crack them open, click on a blank document and the stories just pour onto the page. Anyone who approaches the blank page with a blank mind will end up with a blank page. Sure, it will have some weird little skittering letters on it but those letters won’t be a story. There will be people out there who have done this and they will swear that a story just appeared from nowhere, like a ten ton muse landed on their chest and smacked a story into the outfield. Look at that story fly! Catch it! Catch it! Fumble and swear.

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The fact is this, you are a sponge. You go through your day as a sponge. You walk into shops, sponge and mop you way around clothes you won’t be seen dead in or would rather die than pay that price. You over hear a nice young couple arguing, you suck it up, and watch it from the corner or your eye. You sponge voyeur. You watch a film, your subconscious wrings it out into the bucket of your conscience. YOU. ARE. A. SPONGE. Being a sponge can be great. It can also be a real pain in the ass. See? I’m English, brought up in an ex-industrial Northern town with no ‘outfield’ or ‘ass’ in sight but those lovely, lovely words from other cultures flow into our language. We decimate our language – which means we kill one of every ten words in the Oxford English Dictionary on a dusty battlefield with librarians looking down on us – then we add new words so bottom, backside and bum become ass. Jackass sponge. That’s so sick. I’m not even going there. This life of sponge means as a writer you may be talking to creative writing students about story, coaxing them beat by beat through pity, fear and catharsis and they’re giving you Harry Potter retold, with footnotes and fairies. You tell them you want something bigger, something more emotional, something more them. You want them to understand that being a sponge means we soak up a lot of mess in this world, and in our heads it all gets slopped together and then we mop the kitchen with it, we mop our walls with it, we mop our friends with it and they say, ‘That’s so [INSERT NAME HERE]’. Therefore, sitting down to write is giving a bit of yourself away – don’t worry, sponges grow back quite easily over time, that’s the nature of sponges – you harness your love, your anger and sometimes your satire, you bring you to the page and you should have done the leg work first. You need to work at that story in your sponge mind for weeks, sometimes years, they are ideas that never go away, characters who just won’t give up on you and this means you have to do research – so what does a bus really smell like? Was Reagan an automaton? How close did we come in 1983 to the end of civilisation? How do they make toblerone? All those big questions that fit in a story to how Ronald Reagan nearly pushed the button because he was high on spiked toblerone which he stole from the bags of people riding the bus. We have characters, we have strangeness, we have something different and possibly Nestle would sponsor you.  When you sit down at the screen you think you know your story, your character, and you do for awhile and then, like good friends, you realise they have secrets, and then the real story begins. Then you come to the worst realisation that your sponge subconscious has been listening to their secrets for years and nothing that will come, will come easy.

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