On Saturday, I handed in the first draft of a story in which Shakespeare’s Richard III, who is eking a living as private detective, is hired to investigate the actions of history’s Richard III, who is considering a career in politics. The story is a first person narration at the moment, from the point of view of the fictional Richard, and so is written in blank verse using iambic pentameter, as though written by the Bard (heh – my pallid mimicry, anyway) and delivered by Ian McKellan.
That’s the theory, anyway.
It was, to put it mildly, a challenge to write – a month and half of solid work (and a couple of months of pre-writing scribblings and notes before that), just to get a first draft to the editor. There will be more to come, not least because however much the editor likes it (not, at this stage, something to make assumptions about), I think there’s work still to be done. Still, it’s all my own fault. I pitched the idea in the first place. When the story was commissioned and I was given the go ahead to actually write, I confess to mixed feelings of elation and terror at what I’d managed to sign myself up to. I’m sure that plenty of writers out there would find this type of thing a doddle, but it’s all new to me. Fortunately, as frustrating as it’s been, it’s also been tremendously stimulating. I’m really looking forward to sending you off to get a copy of the book it’s destined to be part of – that book will be like nothing else most of you have read, I suspect (and I know I’m talking to a literate bunch – more on yesterday’s suggest-a-book experiment in a minute). Details to come when know I can give them to you. I’m not entirely sure what has and hasn’t been announced by the publisher regarding all this yet.
Anyway, this blog was nearly a jolly affair about the remarkable coincidence of my writing a story about Richard’s long lost corpse being discovered while I was still working on it.
Then I remembered that I don’t really believe in that sort of coincidence. Which is good, otherwise I would have embarrassed myself. Here’s how ideas happen.
In September 2012, some bones were uncovered underneath a car park in the UK, and there was some speculation in the media about how they might be Richard’s. I clocked that and moved on. I don’t remember thinking much more about it, but obviously filed it away. The same month, the opportunity came up to pitch a story for an unusual sort of fiction collection, which could handle some extraordinary ideas. The deadline for pitches was the following month, upon which the editor would decide which ones to commission for the book.
I did not immediately put these two things together.
Time passed, possible ideas came and went. Days before the deadline, Richard popped into my mind as if from nowhere. It didn’t occur to me that this was because of the news story the previous month. I was immediately excited by the idea of using him – I’ve loved the play since I studied it at school, and was lucky enough to see Ian McKellan’s stage tour of the play as part of that (which later was adapted for the screen). Maybe McKellan was also on my mind because of all the Hobbit pre-publicity. Anyway, the idea came together incredibly quickly, and I got the pitch sent off in time for it to be considered. A week or so later, I got the good news, and started putting fragments of text together.
Most of the proper writing happened across January – I wrote almost nothing else, which belies the short story word count. During the final weeks, the media became awash with the confirmation that Richard’s body had been found, for certain. Bloody hell, I thought. That’s a timely coincidence. Maybe I can sneak a reference into the story somewhere!
I’d completely forgotten that the story only came to be because the bones, not yet confirmed to be those of the last British monarch to die in battle, had actually been discovered months earlier.
The next time a writer tells you that they don’t know where their ideas come from, it’s an accidental lie. They do know. They’ve just forgotten.
More on all that soon.
Yesterday, I posted a call for you lot to pick my next read for me – to surprise me with something I’d never pick myself, that you love. The response was gratifying and included (as though Amanda Fairclough knew I’d be looking for a segue) a fictionalised account of Richard’s life. For that reason, I’ve decided to read it.
I’ve also decided to read everything else that was mentioned. My initial plan to pull one title from a hat fell away as I got more and more excited by the offerings being put to me. Honestly, it made me feel a bit like a kid again, wandering into Amble library and browsing happily through shelves of books I hadn’t even known existed. And as every recommendation came from a good place, with a genuine intention to highlight good books, I can’t turn any of them down. I usually read at least two books at a time – one from the Kindle, one from the shelf. There are two books on the Kindle that I really want to read this month, but after that (probably starting at the end of this month), I’ll be working my way through the following
sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen titles on it.
Gardens of Night by Greg Gifune,
The Ridge by Michael Koryta, The Deputy by Victor Gischler, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, The Red Hourglass by Gordon Grice, Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres, Shoebox Train Wreck by John Mantooth, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, A War of Witches by T.J. Knab, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, Death in the Mountains: The True Story of a Tuscan Murder by Lisa Clifford, Daemon by Daniel Suarez, The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie by Alan Bradley, and Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard.
It’s an incredibly eclectic selection, and there’s almost nothing there I would have been likely to read in the near future without your suggestions. Thanks for making them – it’s an experiment in reading outside of the box that’s become a bit bigger than planned, but which makes me blissfully happy. If you want to follow along, I leave some thoughts on just about everything I read over on Goodreads. You could also pop back at the end of the year, and see if any of the above make my top five from 2013. I have high hopes that at least a couple will make it, because they’ll surprise me.
Currently reading (novel): Faction Paradox: Of The City Of The Saved, Philip Purser-Hallard
Currently reading (anthology): The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stores, edited by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer