Wednesday, 27 August 2008

God, the weather and inspirational writers

Remind me never to challenge God to a one-on-one again.

As mentioned in Friday's post, I took the young lad camping on Saturday, up at Sulby Claddaghs in the north of our wild and rugged island. The forecast had said showers from mid-afternoon. Showers. Nothing about raging storms.

We held firm till just before midnight, safe and secure against the driving wind and lashing rain, when a huge gust of wind snapped the two cross poles of our pretty new and snazzy family tent. Not one, both of them. Cue much frantic rescuing of gear and a hasty retreat home in the car, leaving the tent to be salvaged the following day.

Me and my big mouth. I’d wanted the young fella to have some cool memories of his first camp with his old man. Well, he’ll certainly not forget it.

An interesting post today from San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford, asking readers who influenced them most on their path to being writers. This was a commonly asked question while travelling to research The Manx Connection, and it was an easy one to answer.

It comes in two parts. The first books to make me think I want to do this were Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which anyone with the vaguest interest in fantasy will know well. I read them about the age of twelve, and again when I was sixteen and the second time was when it registered – I too wanted to create the magic I felt while reading these epic adventures. As happens, my first effort at a novel also featured a tragically flawed hero, who finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand with a power he has no idea how to use. The plot was completely different, but it took me a while to realise just how influenced I’d been by Donaldson.

That first effort, by the way, stalled at 70,000 words. I reckon that was about the half-way mark, but I’d written myself into more corners than Little Jack Horner. Yet the red folder containing that half a book is never far away from my laptop. You just never know.

The second, and most telling, dose of inspiration came in 2003, when I was lucky enough to interview Irish author John Connolly and the travel writer Pete McCarthy, who is sadly no longer with us. The interviews were just a few weeks apart, and neither of these wonderful interviewees would have had the first inkling of the inspirational wake up call each delivered.

Connolly simply told me to stop talking a good book – that whatever story I had inside me wasn’t going to tap me on the shoulder, insist I sit down with a few beers to watch the footy, and then set about writing itself. He also provided reassurance when he said that every writer, published or unpublished, hits a point – usually somewhere between the 20,000 and 50,000-word mark – when they have a crisis of confidence and believe that their work-in-progress stinks, with most unpublished writers abandoning their work at this time. Write through it, he said. Even if it’s fifty words a day, just keep on going.

McCarthy was in the Isle of Man publicising The Road to McCarthy, his follow-up to McCarthy’s Bar, and it was his pep talk that planted the seed for The Manx Connection, when he told me of his travels around the world in search of the origins of the McCarthy name. Six months later, he was diagnosed with cancer, and nine months after that, around the same time I was embarking on the first leg of travel for The Manx Connection, Pete was dead. He was a funny man, and a fine writer. Life really is too short.

There is another influence on my writing, in terms of a handy dose of inspiration when the muse has lost her voice. It’s called On Writing, by Stephen King, and it has a permanent place on the side of my desk. It’s the most superb book about writing that I’ve ever read. It’s funny, it pulls no punches and it features the most wonderful line – "Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative life," King writes. "The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

I’ll drink to that, Mr King.

Still being read this week, thanks to God and his excitable weather:

The Sweet Forever, George Pelecanos

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