Today on the train home from work, I did everything I could to avoid engaging with a young guy who was telling everyone who’d listen a long string of improbable anecdotes. If it weren’t for the desperate, almost involuntary, urge he had to share his fantasy life, I might have thought he was having a laugh. Instead it was clear he was somewhere along the path of a serious mental health problem and it got me thinking, again, about that line between imagination and ‘crazy thinking’.
As I walk down the streets and ride the trains of my day-to-day life I am constantly in a fantasy world, imagining things and places that don’t exist. In my mind’s eye I’m conducting thought experiments that put me or other people into extreme situations and make them heroes and villains. While I journey with my characters I live hundreds of fantastical lives and if I sat down and told complete strangers (or even people I know) all about them like that guy was, they’d worry for my mental health too.
It’s always struck me as a great blessing to have a big, uncontrollable imagination, but there is something a little scary about it too, and when I see someone who’s on the way to losing sight of the line between fantasy and reality, I marvel at how fluid that line is.
I was having the most fascinating conversation with a writer friend the other day about how working on the dark parts of stories can affect your mood. She’d been working on a horror novel and I’d been editing a tough, angry emotional scene. Neither of us could do it without the emotion bleeding into us in the real world.
She’s made the decision to give the novel a rest, at least for a while, and I was incredibly happy to get to the end of my chapter and move on.
It got me thinking that this is why in my scratch drafts and even first drafts the emotion is often underdeveloped in those kind of scenes. It makes sense that I don’t dig deep on the first go round; I might put the draft down instead of pushing on.
It also got me thinking that if a quarter of what I was feeling, working on this particular scene, showed in my face as I was editing, then there’s a reason people haven’t been sitting next to me on the train recently!
Today, I was strolling around the children’s area of a department store. It was all very shiny and they have an animatronic dinosaur I’d happily hire a crane to steal, but overall it was one of the most depressing places I’ve been in a while. Everything was the opposite of what childhood seems like it should be (to me).
I mean I grew up with a bunch of friends who had every brand name doll, every brand name truck and some toys that were book or TV inspired, but this place was literally wall-to-wall “you’ve seen the movie, now buy the toys”. There was almost nothing there that didn’t have its own TV show or movie.
What I wondered as I moved from branded shelf to branded shelf, was whether there were any toys there that inspired kids to use their own imaginations and not just piggy-back off something some adult wrote. Does that actually inhibit kids from developing their own stories? Or do they just use it as a jumping off point for their imaginations?
I don’t know. I think about my space-alien-necklaces and figure that you probably couldn’t dent the imagination of a kid like me, but I don’t worry about those like me. I worry about the kids who don’t have an over-abundance of story in them. I worry that, between all this pre-packaged stuff they’re fed and the way virtual is replacing real in their lives, they might be the poorer for it.
It actually disturbed me more than seeing a Harley Quinn costume for a pre-teen girl. (Who in their right mind thinks a tween should dress as a character who is a hyper-sexualised victim of domestic violence? There’s a role model for you. Though, in fairness, the costume itself wasn’t at all sexy.)
As a kid when I looked at these items, I didn’t see necklaces or beads, I saw aliens from a planet I can’t remember the name of now. They flew around the galaxy in a (heart-shaped jewellery box) spaceship. They used to go on adventures and had telekinetic powers. Which just goes to show, I think, that giving some kids highly gendered products doesn’t disrupt their natural tendencies to non-gendered play!
I was rarely bored as a child.
One of the things I love about the bookclub is that we select books by putting selections in a “hat” and doing a blind draw. The method keeps an alluring mystery about what we’ll read next and ensures an equal chance for all kinds of books.
My favourite things is when a book is picked and – as happened this month – two people go “that’s my suggestion!”. Sometimes they’ve come to it via entirely different routes and sometimes the same one. It’s fascinating what brings books to the attention of each of us.
The book that was picked this time is We are all completely beside ourselves which found its way into the “hat” from my hands and another bookclubber’s. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages as I know many a person who loves it, so the bookclub will give me the push to!
Today, I spent a couple of hours sitting chatting with my writer friend Ellen. We had met to write, but it was just a day for talking about writing, publishing and various other related things so we went with it.
In a sense it was the perfect example of something I’ve been thinking about recently; what productivity means for a writer.
I’ve been on a holiday from work for nearly two months now and I have been massively productive in a range of areas that have nothing to do with writing. For a few days this bugged me. Then, I started to think about what I’d actually achieved on Blurty and the novellas and realised that it hadn’t been unproductive it had just not been as productive as other areas.
There’s that niggle that always tells me I should be doing volume but the reality is that sometimes explaining your project/s to someone is as useful as spending an hour editing. Just like getting necessary house maintenance done, or immersing yourself in other people’s wonderful fiction (i.e. living a life) is important to not burning out.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how dark/gritty to make one of my current projects and whether giving my protag a pet throws that out the window because it’ll add a little humour and some undeniable sweetness. Not that fiction can’t be gritty, funny and have sweet moments, but as I steadfastly refuse to kill the pet off, I suspect it would definitely lighten the mood.
In the end I decided that this just wasn’t that dark a story and the pet wanted to be there because it suited the existing tone.
You might ask why was I looking to make it grittier in the first place… that comes from an excellent crit’er I know who really loves fiction full of down and dirty stuff. Personally as a reader I don’t need all the bodily fluids present in a book, or gruesome deaths, but I always take a moment to question whether I am making my fiction too ‘nice’.