Ah! *Deep breath* It’s good to be back.
I hope your weekend was full of glitter and cocktails and dancing, and that it’s now a pleasantly fading memory. Mine was wonderful – full of family, great food and lots of laughter – and, as well as that, it was almost entirely computer-free. I think it’s necessary, every once in a while, to step away from the screen.
That doesn’t mean my mind didn’t live in stories, just because I was away from the computer, though. Of course.
Sometimes it seems like your brain works overtime to create story ideas when it knows you have no way of taking note of them. You’re in the middle of a meal, perhaps, or on a long car journey, when the Best Idea Ever whacks you between the eyes. When that happens, you can find yourself repeating the idea over and over to yourself until you manage to find a pen and paper, or your phone, or whatever it is you use to keep track of your ramblings; hopefully, by the time you get to do this, your idea hasn’t lost all semblance of coherence, and still sounds like the Best Idea Ever. Also, hopefully, the people who have been trying to hold a conversation with you while you’ve been trying to hold a whole world inside your head aren’t too peeved at your apparent absent-mindedness.
While we’re on this topic: I think it’s important to stay faithful to these ideas, the ones that come at you out of nowhere. If something strikes you as exciting or interesting, then don’t let your enthusiasm for it fade while you search for something to make a note with. I fear many a wonderful idea has been lost down the dark crevasse of that particular form of self-doubt.
It’s funny how the human brain can talk itself into most things, and out of nearly everything. Have you ever had the experience where a word you use all the time suddenly starts to look ‘wrong’ or weird, like you’ve misspelled it or are using it incorrectly? It happens to me all the time. Common words, if repeated often enough, can eventually seem like gibberish, so it stands to reason that the more familiar your brain is with something, the more nonsensical it can seem. If this starts happening with your ideas, and you start to convince yourself that they’re no good just because you’ve been focusing strongly on them for a while, then try to bear in mind that all you’re doing is talking yourself out of your own process of inspiration.
And that, I’m sure we can all agree, is a bit silly.
Sometimes, though, a story can grow in unexpected ways. It can grow slowly, out of a single image or a fleeting impression, and years can pass before anything changes. It’s not a bolt from the blue, leaving you scrambling for a pen; it’s a far longer and more gentle process, like a flower blooming inside your mind. Something like this happened to me at the weekend, and I’m quite pleased about it. It feels like a warm scarf, which I can’t stop tucking gently around myself. I feel like I’ve found the next step in a long-unsolved puzzle, and that a story seed I’ve been nurturing for a long time is a tiny bit closer to coming to fruition.
For years now, I have had a character in my head. He stalks the corners of my consciousness, raising a scornful eyebrow at me every once in a while. ‘I will have a story for you soon, I promise,’ I keep telling him; ‘yeah, right,’ he seems to reply. I can see him, tall and skinny and besuited, his face long and his smile beguiling, darkness flowing off him like radiation. He is a blood-chilling character, and he deserves a story to match.
Well, I think I might have found the first step in the tale of my unsettling man.
It all happened because of something I misread in a book at my in-laws’ house. The book was a compendium of local folklore and mythology, and the words I read were Irish. They were ‘Féar Gorta’, which means something like ‘Hunger Grass,’ or ‘Famine Grass’; to my eye, though, they first appeared as ‘Fear Gorta,’ which means ‘Man of Hunger,’ or ‘Man of Famine.’ The only difference between the word ‘féar’ and the word ‘fear’ (pronounced ‘fair’ and ‘far’ respectively) is the diacritical mark known as a ‘fada’ which appears over the ‘e’ in ‘Féar’; this little mark changes the word completely, though. As I read the words which I thought were ‘fear gorta,’ my slender, dark and smiling man popped into my head, and took a bow. I thought: Wow. So, now I know what he is. He’s a Man of Hunger – or, at least, a version of one.
A Man of Hunger is, apparently, a folkloric figure in Ireland, a wraith who appears at your door seemingly on the point of starving to death; you’re supposed to show him mercy, and give him whatever food you have to spare. If you do, you’ll never know another hungry day, but if you don’t… well. If you don’t, hunger itself will never be far from you. ‘Féar Gorta’, or hunger grass, is a patch of innocent-looking grass which has dried up and died, but if a person walks over it they’re afflicted with dreadful, life-threatening hunger and must be given something to eat immediately or face death; the legends say that patches of hunger grass sprang up at the places where people dying of starvation during the Famine fell and were left unburied, or where the fairies have cursed the ground.
Ireland, eh? Cheery place.
Lots of legends like this sprang up in Ireland after the Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, and even though they’re no longer believed, they still have a powerful cultural resonance. I love stories which take elements of folklore and weave them into new and interesting stories, and which bring ancient ideas back to life, and I’m quite delighted with my little misreading, the one which brought me from Hunger Grass to Man of Hunger. It has given me – ironically, perhaps – a little meat to put on the bones of my mysterious character. I already have a story beginning to weave itself around him, and it’s exciting to watch it grow.
Of course, another thing the mind does is give you a good idea for your next project while you’re still working on your current project. It will be a while before I get to actually write any of this, but until then, my subconscious mind can churn away at it. Hopefully by the time I’m preparing my first draft, the story will flow with ease – but if this sly and smiling man inside my head is anything to go by, nothing will go to plan…