Tag Archives: imagination

As big as my imagination

I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for what feels like an eternity. They’re big books but it didn’t help that I cut costs and bought an e-book edition that combines four titles into one massive anthology, a collection so huge that contemplating the page numbers is like gazing up at the Himalayas. To give you a sense of scale, I recently reduced the font size and happily discovered I only had 1000 pages to go. It felt like the end was in sight. At least until the next book is published.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thoroughly enjoying the GRRM universe. It is epic in scale and sumptuously detailed. It’s an astonishing feat of imagination. I also admire the unsentimental way the author terminates key characters and introduces new voices whenever he feels like it. The reader can take nothing for granted.

In an interview with Fairfax, Mr Martin said: “When the writing is going really well, I do get lost in it. I almost live in it. It occupies the back of my head. I’m thinking about it constantly. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. I cross the street thinking about it – my office is across the street from my house.

“On good days, I vanish into Westeros and the real world goes away and I spend the day dealing with my characters… There are bad days, too, when there are a lot of distractions. The real world is always a threat to the imaginary world.

“I still love the world. I still love the characters. I still want to go back and spend time with them.

“To my mind (character) is one of the most crucial things, but the writing, the prose, how you evoke a scene, is something you spend a lot of time on. How to bring it alive and put your reader there and evoke all the right sounds, smells and sights, so that they don’t feel they are just reading it, they are living it. That is always the goal, the struggle.”

I’m encouraged by these comments. I have writing days when the distractions dive bomb me like mosquitos and very few words get written. On the good days, I’m living with my characters and barely notice time passing.

I’m unlikely to ever write anything as lengthy as A Song of Ice and Fire but am currently deep into the longest story I’ve ever tackled. It’s speculative fiction, set in the near future. It has been percolating in my head for several years but only now are characters emerging from the mist. The scope of the story might even demand a series of novels but time will tell.

My experiences with writing this year have reminded me of another quote I stumbled across from Mr Martin. He had been working in television where he was continually told to scale down his ideas due to budget limitations. Frustrated, he left television to work on a book, “as big as my imagination”. A Game of Thrones was published two years later. More than 27 million books have been sold in the Ice and Fire series and the TV series has been a smash hit.

Comparing sales figures with other authors is a speedway to insanity so let’s not go there. I mainly wanted to show that writing brings inevitable challenges, no matter who you are. We all have to quell the real world to let the imaginary shine through.

My big, ocasionally rampant, imagination can be a blessing and a curse. But I’d rather live with it than without it.

Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.
Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.

The perfect office

If I was to suddenly come into money one of the things I’d like to do is have the shed in my backyard transformed into a two-storey (but multi-story) studio. There’d be space downstairs for the all-important bikes, a bathroom and storage for other essential shed kipple.

Upstairs would be a massive bench for writing, somewhere to boil the kettle, shelves for my trinkets, pinboards for brainstorming and a wide window overlooking my back garden.

The perfect view would be through some wizened red gums across a beach and out to sea – but that’s highly unlikely from where I live. If I take the fantasy further, the office might even be an actual treehouse, so that I’d be surrounded by living energy. If that sounds silly, check out some of these stunning treehouses. I don’t think I could manage the PNG version but most of the others would make for a magnificent writing space.

There are other ripper treehouses here.

Guess I’ll have to make do with my imagination for now.

Words and music

Maybe it’s the stickybeak in me. Or the reporter. Actually, let’s go with ‘compulsive storyteller’. That’s more palatable.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, I spend a lot of time seeing or hearing things and making up stories to go with them.

Example. I was in a doctors’ waiting room this morning and found myself matching all manner of ailments and injuries to the patients shuffling by. The bloke with both arms in plaster was probably a motorcyclist or bruised cyclist like me but I initially had him falling off a factory roof during a break and enter… Sorry, mate.

I do this with songs, too – listen to the lyrics and try to guess what the composer had in mind when they wrote the song. (Over the years I’ve matured slightly and reluctantly accepted that artists might not actually be singing auto-biographical material about their own achy-breaky hearts.)

So I’m really excited to have Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy on order. This is an Answer Book, as far as I’m concerned. Questions I’ve mused over, songs I’ve listened to for years are going to be explained by the man himself. I can’t wait.

Another project that has piqued my interest is the collaboration between US singer-songwriter Ben Folds and UK author Nick Hornby. The latter took short stories and other ideas and turned them into lyrics. The former wrote melodies and created songs. The end result was the album, Lonely Avenue. Here’s a link to my favourite track, so far. It’s a universal story that many, many people will identify with.

And here’s a trailer explaining how the Lonely Avenue project came to be:

On talking to readers, not at them

Regular travellers down Thunder Road will have noticed I’ve turned off and meandered along Michael Morpurgo Lane lately. (If there isn’t a mossy lane somewhere in the UK with this name, there should be.) I was just about to indicate and head back onto the highway when I had cause to flick through an old notebook while preparing for a media interview about Five Parts Dead.

And there, among my crypto-calligraphy, was a page of notes on the talk Mr Morpurgo did at the State Library in September 2007. After decoding, I can share some of what he had to say:

On targeting a specific age group when writing:
“What dictates the tone of the story is the story itself.”

On writing for children, not at children:
“If you are writing something for children because you think they could learn from it or that they would like it, you are probably patronising them.

“You don’t have the children in mind when you are writing , you have the story in mind.”

On protecting children from topics such as death and grief – don’t do it:
“Children have always had to deal with pain … At some stage they are going to have to deal with the loss of a grandparent.”

On character arcs:
“I like the idea of redemption … but not if I have to work too hard to get it in there.”

On where to find stories:
“I had a teacher who used to say, ‘Use your imagination, Michael’. What she should have said was, ‘Use your eyes and use your ears’, because that’s where your imagination begins.”

I particularly like that last quote because it’s essentially what I tell students when conducting writing workshops.

Mr Morpurgo also spoke of how he uses poems, songs, nursery rhymes and folk tales to flesh out and give structure to his books, stating that ancient tales still speak to us all as human beings:
“We survive, as long as our stories survive.”

Amen to that.