Tag Archives: Imagination

Childhood Memory & Writing

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we writers must often have the feeling that ‘I’ll use that in a story one day’ when we see or overhear something interesting.

I sometimes find myself foraging for goodies in my memory banks going back 50 years to my childhood. It’s interesting how we come to an understanding of the way that the world works through dramatic and confusing incidents, that are only half-explained to us by our parents.

I wrote a short story called In The Graveyard At Dawn,  based on my experiences of walking my dog through the grounds of the local church. This included encountering a widower driven mad with grief, who used to lay on his wife’s grave. When I first saw him at 6:00 am, as an impressionable 13-year-old, I thought it was a corpse not yet buried and I looked around for the gravedigger. He became aware of my presence and sat up hinging at the waist like Nosferatu rising from his coffin. The hair on my dog’s spine and on the back of my neck rose in hackles before we ran from the scene!

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I’ve been entering writing competitions recently, and have been casting around for ideas for new short stories to write, as most contests only accept previously unpublished material. I remembered seeing a mysterious and extraordinary woman when I was a youngster, who used to walk past my house. I grew up on what was once known as the Great North Road, a Roman road that’s arrow straight in many places. Playing with my toy cars beside the footpath, I could see this lady coming from half-a-mile away.

What made her stand out, was that she was short, about 4′ 10″ tall, and she walked between two huge dogs, an Irish Wolfhound and a Great Dane, her forearms resting on their backs as they kept pace with her. Her hairdo was unusual for the early 1960s, closely cropped to her head. She had an upright posture, one eye on the horizon as she had a black patch over the other one. At 8-years-old, the only people I knew who wore eye-patches were pirates, and as she lived in the posh houses of millionaire’s row, presumably she was a retired pirate captain!

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I never did find out who she was, or how she’d been injured, but she’ll soon appear in one of my stories. You’re probably already making up theories about her—it’s impossible not to when you’re a writer—it’s what we automatically do.

Have you used any childhood memories in your stories?

Imaginary Friends

I’ve jokingly referred to writing novels as playing with my imaginary friends in various posts. Many children have imaginary friends, and I was no exception.

I had good cause to create an ally, for when I was three years old my privileged world was invaded by twin sisters. I loved them, but the attention definitely shifted from toddler me to entrancing babies. My role altered too, for suddenly I was a helper and protector. 

To cope, I invented Peter—an invisible brother, who did all of the naughty things that I would never do. He stuck around for a couple of years until I went to infant school, where I suddenly had battles to fight alone.

Peter returned to me last night, as I waded through another round of editing my WIP. He came into my mind as an idea for a short story about a writer being haunted by a ghost that looks like himself.

It made me wonder if writers are prone to having kept company with imaginary friends when youngsters—an early manifestation of their creative powers, perhaps….

I’ve met my doppelgänger too, and it gave me great pause for thought. I lived in Southsea as a student in the mid-80s, which has a village feel to it and is the part of Portsmouth next to the sea. Occasionally, a passing car would beep me, and I’d think “I don’t know anyone with a white VW—who was that?”. Once someone hailed me from the other side of the road and even started to cross over before changing their mind.

I didn’t think too much of it until I went out to my neighbourhood store for some Saturday night snacks. Standing patiently in a long queue, I suddenly felt a hand creep between my legs and give my undercarriage a friendly tweak! I turned around to see a complete stranger, a woman some years younger than me who blushed furiously saying “I’m sorry, I thought you were Robert. You look just like him from behind.”

“Well, do I feel like him from behind?” I asked. It turned out she’d been picked up by this man in a club, spent the night with him, and he hadn’t contacted her since. She told me that he worked in a local wine bar, so I went along to have a look at him one lunchtime. He did indeed look like a version of me—though not as tall, handsome or sexy (tee-hee), and could have passed for my little brother.

When I told Robert about the incident in the store where I got goosed and described the girl, he replied gracelessly “Oh her, she’s a bloody nightmare.”

After meeting him, all of the cases of mistaken identity fell into place. Then I had the dreadful thought of what would happen if he robbed a bank—eyewitnesses would finger me as the culprit!

Remembering this incident, I wrote a novella called ‘A Man Out Walking His Dog’, about a man doing just that who discovers a murder victim floating in a river. The story was prompted by my experience of mistaken identity, and hearing that phrase so often on the news—dog walkers are often the first people to find a corpse—something they don’t tell you in the pet shop when you buy a puppy.

A pushy detective tries to frame him for the crime, as he resembles the real killer who’s seen by unreliable witnesses in the area at the same time. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously fickle and, all too often, shockingly inaccurate—a situation made worse if coerced by a biased policeman. My accused man escapes by the skin of his teeth, thanks to a video of the killer that his victim made on her iPhone.

We all like to think we’re unique, but we have replicants walking around somewhere—doing good and bad things without our permission!

Did any of you have friends that nobody else could see?

Are they still around?

I’m hearing the voices again….

This article in the Independent newspaper struck home with me:

Do you hear a voice when you read this? That might be more normal than you think

Research suggests that 80% of readers hear a ‘voice’ when reading a story, with only 11% denying that they heard an inner voice at all. 

This made me wonder about how much to tailor the conversations in my novels, giving them a sprinkling of dialect, while avoiding spelling words phonetically. My crime novels are set in Cornwall, which has its own language, rich Celtic culture and a distinctive accent. Here’s a good example of it:

As mentioned in the video, there are emmets a-plenty in Cornwall. These are incomers from out of county, mainly holidaymakers who swarm around like ants, giving the locals much of their income from tourism. Many stay and settle. Some of my fictional characters are Cornish born and bred, while others have moved here. This has caused me a certain amount of head-scratching in how to differentiate their accents and attitudes.

Over the years, there’s been some fuss made about how the Cornish accent is spoken in television dramas. An adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn was panned because the cast mumbled their words making them hard to understand. The hugely successful new adaptation of Winston Graham’s Poldark stories has gone the other way, with most of the actors avoiding anything that sounds like a West Country burr. Only the farm labourers, the ignorant unwashed oiks attempt an ‘ooh arr, yes sur country bumpkin way of speaking.

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Poldark stars decide to ditch Cornish accents

Do any of you hear voices when reading a book or while writing characters?