I like to have to work on more than one writing project at a time. It helps to have stories stacked up and circling, like jumbo jets. That way, if I get stuck, or bored, I can move on and give my attention to the next one. Right now I’m working on three stories in various stages of development.
The Darkest Light : a.k.a Tara
This is a script about a young woman called Tara Miller and her partner, Niall. They’re petty crims, small time swindlers. Without realising it, they get tangled up in a serious, nasty crime. Though they’re cheap and crooked, they’re duped by guys who make them seem like angels. I’m intrigued by the idea of people sliding into deep water – the feeling of panic as the floor beneath their feet slips away.
It’s impossible for human beings to be perfect, the idea of goodness and badness is relative. I worked in a prison for almost ten years – teaching English and History to young men who had committed very serious crimes. Yet they felt there were others inside who were much worse. Occasionally they would express their disgust at some of the people they had to share space with. There’s a hierarchy of crime – pickpockets look down on thieves, thieves despise rapists, rapists hate child molesters. The question of morality in a criminal world is fascinating. Can a ‘bad’ person do a good deed? Can they change their life?
When the heroine, Tara, is duped into trafficking another human being, she begins to question her values. What should she do? Going to the police is out of the question – they wouldn’t believe her and they would bang her up. What can she do? And she is tiring of this life – it’s not glamorous. It’s scary and it’s not even well paid. What does she really want?
This is a script which has gone through more than twenty drafts. It’s a story I keep returning to because I know the characters so well by now that they seem real, living and breathing people. I care about them. I want to know what happens. I want to see them stand up and walk and talk, not just my head.
That just got a step closer to reality when the script was bought by a London production company. They have some intriguing suggestions and ideas, so the process of polishing and planning starts again.
This script is in an earlier stage of development. Ian Cottage had the original idea for a ghost story. At a very early stage we pitched to iMovies and there was interest, but the story was a little undercooked.
Since then we’ve completed a step outline and now I’m embarking on the first draft. At this stage the structure is flexible, the characters still ‘plastic’. Writing is also a process of discovery – what is it we’re trying to say here? To keep the idea grounded I return to the ‘story concept’ – a couple of sentences which distill the idea – it works for most stories, in any genre:
This is a story about (CHARACTER) who wants/needs (SOMETHING), tries to get it and (SUCCEEDS/FAILS/is CHANGED).
It’s a murder story with a supernatural twist. Last night I read a quote by Deborah Kerr when she was working on The Innocents – the Henry James story that became a very scary film. She asked the director whether Miss Giddens, the governess she was playing, was actually seeing the ghost of Peter Quint or whether it was her neurosis. ‘You decide,’ he replied.
That psychological eeriness, claustrophobia and sense of ambiguity is what we’re trying to conjure for this story.
The critic, Edmund Wilson, pointed out that the ghosts in The Innocents were never actually seen by the children or by the housekeeper, but by the governess alone. That suggests the governess was suffering some kind of delusion. But it ignores the fact that the audience also saw the faces at the window. Deborah Kerr said she chose to play it straight – that Giddens was not deluded. So it’s important to know the state of mind of the characters in our story – deluded, or haunted?
Another question to ponder is whether it’s possible to have empathy for a central character who has committed a murder.
It helps me to write if I cast the characters from a story in my head. I like to see the face. At the moment, I have Isild Le Besco in the frame for the lead – she seems to possess the right mixture of fragility and menace. You get the feeling that bad things happen around her!
Cars Just Want to be Rust – sequel
The third current project is a sequel to my crime novel, Cars Just Want to be Rust. This is set in rural Northumberland. The central character is Kitty Lockwood, a WPC in the first book.
At this stage I’m plotting the storyline. I know the incident which starts the book. I know the characters and I’m working on the ending. Though some of the characters from the first book are still there, I’m keen not to repeat myself. Time has passed. Nothing stays the same. They must move on. This book is also about the idea that life often seems random. Whatever we expect to happen, reality will be different. So I need to provide surprises… I’ve gone through several different titles – today it’s called The Ferry Pilot’s Handbook, but I suspect that may be a title for a totally different book and tomorrow it will be something else!