My last post, about three million years ago, it seems now, was about creating characters. So what did I do after I wrote it? I decided to enter a short story competition. Nothing bad about that, except for the fact I took all the earnest advice, I had just handed out, far too seriously, about planning and plotting and making sure everything was right before getting to grips with the story. Bad idea.
I was inspired, you see, by a photograph. Nothing wrong about that, although it was of me on holiday in Bordeaux, which seems a bit self absorbed. But I just thought how cool it would be to write a story about a woman who wants to treat her mother to a weekend in Bordeaux, only to realise that her mother knows the city really well, on account of a broken love affair long ago (get your hankies out now).
I decided to up the tension by putting the affair against the backdrop of the invasion of France in WW2. Which was where it all began to unravel. Because, if I made it a modern day story, then the mother couldn’t really be much younger than 90, and probably wouldn’t be up to trailing round Bordeaux and bumping into old acquaintances in the maquis (unless they were literally skeletons in her cupboards). And, when I started researching the history of the time I got in a right tangle. It was almost impossible to give my characters factual backgrounds without wondering if I was saying something completely wrong. All my inspiration was strangled and died. (Hankies, don’t forget the hankies).
My problem was that I let the research take over. If I’d done a bit of free-writing, say, I might have found a way round the problem. (Maybe by making the daughter tell the story to her daughter, and maybe setting it in a city whose past is slightly easier to be confident about. Maybe.).
But there you go. After writing and writing and re writing and reading more than I actually wanted to about the history of Bordeaux, and getting far too close to the competition deadline without achieving anything concrete, I screwed the whole lot up and sent in a story I wrote two years ago. Then I went to Ikea. Not exactly what Brendan Behan would have done, but then, despite my artistic tendencies, I am a middle aged woman who has cutlery needs.
Live and learn. In writing follow your instinct, not the rules. And when in doubt, keep blogging. It’s nice to be back.