It’s an odd occupation, this writing business. You sit alone in a room and make up stuff, and if you’re lucky, you find that someone else likes it, has faith in it, and is willing to put it out in the world for you. If you are even luckier, you make a little money out of the process and find that it becomes a job – a career, even.
I’ve been writing full-time for twenty-five years now, a figure that has me scratching my head and wondering where in the hell the time went. I look up above my desk, where there is a shelf upon which sits a copy of each of my books, and as I look at the titles on the spines I think not of the characters and worlds therein, but of the places I was at when I wrote them. They are waypoints in my life, and within their pages are ideas which flared up at certain times like a match struck in the dark, only to die out in the darkness again when their time was past and a new idea was being lifted out of the box.
Where those ideas come from I have no idea. It is the most common question a writer is asked; Where do you get your ideas from? Somewhere in the twilit spaces of my mind there must be a little hard-working gremlin chiselling at my memories and experiences with a pickaxe, looking for nuggets of worth, night and day.
Shaving in a mirror, walking along a beach, lying staring at a moonlit ceiling – characters and plotlines and whole worlds have presented themselves to me unasked at such times. I don’t seek them out – that can’t be done – the thing cannot be forced- but just like that, they appear in the empty hopper of my consciousness, waiting for me to polish them up and fit them together; while the gremlin in my mind smiles, wipes his nose, and goes back to chiselling. If that little bugger ever downs tools or retires, then I will be truly screwed – for that is the constant fear of every writer. That one day the ideas will stop coming. The seam will run dry, with nothing left to mine. The gremlin will shrug, toss the pickaxe aside, and light his pipe, his work complete at last.
But for now, I can hear him down there in the dark, tap-tap-tapping away at the rock-face of my imagination, still looking for the one, perfect lump of ore that I can take and smelt into something worthwhile. Long may he continue.
Paul Kearney is the author of, most recently, The Wolf in the Attic (Solaris). Here’s the synopsis:
1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien… and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.
Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.
But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.
That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.