Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Turn of the Tickle

It is sometimes a strange thing being a 'creative' type. As you know, if you read this blog, I spend my time doing other things - teaching, marking (groan...), writing academic papers and essays, readings, radio interviews, etc. all of which are quite prescriptive and set-out in advance. But, as you also know, I also do my creative writing.

One thing which often occupies my mind - as it does many other writers and readers - is the concept of where ideas come from. The truth is, I don't know. Okay, sometimes the moment of inspiration is obvious: you see a news story, or see something happen in 'real' life, and there it is, the story you want to tell. But the thing which appears on the page is always changed and altered. You will have added characters, changed details, provided motivations, or explored areas that you never read about or saw. Where did they come from, eh?

In other cases, the moment of inspiration is less clear. You may be grouting the bathroom, driving to work, shaving the cat or cleaning a lamppost and, all of a sudden, poof, there it is, an idea. It appears in your brain without any warning and suddenly you have lines of prose (or poetry, if you're a poet) unspooling in your head. You try and trace what the thought was which led to the thought which led to the thought which led to the idea, but it's pointless. The aliens have beamed it into your head and there it is.

And then there is the wonder of flash fiction (yes, that again) whereby you don't even wait for the aliens, but sit down, pull up a prompt, plug your brain into your keyboard or pen, and watch the story emerge from nowhere.

None of this is news, this is the stuff writers have always talked about: the impossibility of pinning down just where the stuff we do come from. However, yesterday I reached a new level of this mystery. A friend posted a picture of an abbey on their Facebook profile. I didn't click on it to look at the larger version, I was hardly even aware that it was there in amongst all the other posts in my news feed, and yet... I felt a tickle. It wasn't inspiration, it wasn't a story, it wasn't anything more than the knowledge that if I sat down to write then this picture had a flash-fiction buried within it. I didn't know what it was, and I did my best not to think about it, but I could feel that the story was there, waiting.

And, sure enough, several hours later I sat down, had another look at the picture and then 20 minutes later I had a nice little story which I am very pleased with. Now, can somebody tell me, just where did that come from, and how did my brain known that this picture contained the seed?

Ah well, I guess if we knew the answer to those questions, then the mystery would disappear and it would all be boring and prescriptive and pointless.

Still, the whole thing has given me the inspiration for a project. Having found the strictures of NaNoWriMo to be so useful and productive, I have decided to see if I can write 31 flash-fictions in January. I'm allowing myself to count yesterday's ('The Abbey') as the first, which leaves me with 30 more to write. That's one a day with a few 2 story days in order to catch up. As best I can, I shall keep you up to date with my progress. What I would ask, though, is if you come across a phrase, a word, an image, a photo, or whatever, that you think might serve as a prompt for a story, send it through to me, and I'll see what it provokes. All prompts which lead to stories will get a public credit. (In that spirit, a public thank you to Vanessa Gebbie who's photo of Kirkstall Abbey led to last night's story.)

Oh, and if you feel like joining me on what I have christened CalFlaWriMo (Cal's Flash Writing Month) then feel free. Let me know and we can jolly each other along.

So, with all that said, here's to the next tickle!

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