An interesting development happened as I was reading through a finished novel. When the writing process is complete I edit and edit again. Edit, read, edit. This particular novel is one that has gone through several transformations until I am finally satisfied that it is finished.
I start a piece of writing, be it a short story or a novel, with a basic idea and I make character sketches. I develop the idea and the characters before I start to write, and when I have finished I usually go back to the sketches to see how far I have strayed from my original ideas.
Other pieces of inspiration will inevitably appear along the writing path. Places, people, objects. For me, these are usually explicit in my work and form the skeleton of my writing piece, the visual aspect of the story when I am writing.
On the current read-through I realised that the real inspiration for the current novel was not obvious to me until I had finished. I re-read my sketches and notes but did not find one trace of this thread of inspiration that runs through. When I backtracked and thought about the run-up to the writing and what I did in the year or so before I started to write, I realised that I had drawn from certain things and events, but hardly known that I had.
I’d conspired with myself to create a character for my novel and became, in a process that I thought was separate from my writing, temporarily preoccupied with Don Henley and Stevie Nicks. My partner had bought a new mixer and set up his decks is the dining room and we were once again able to play vinyl, and I thought my interest on Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles stemmed from this. It started with the song ‘Leather and Lace’ which I heard on the radio one Sunday morning about two years ago.
I’m not a big fan of country music, even country rock, but this song made me think about the desperation of love and loss. I researched the life and music of both these people and in the final analysis earlier this year found myself sitting in the Manchester Arena watching Don Henley perform with the Eagles. It was an emotional process for me. The tour was called ‘The History of the Eagles’ and when the band came on stage I was completely shocked at how old they were and of my own mortality. I found myself recalling and earlier part of my life and willing them to sing a particular song. It was unlikely, as Don Henley had recorded it alone.
They didn’t sing it and during the next week I was re-reading my novel and realised that the story was based on this song.
Many writers have told me that their writing isn’t based on their own personal experiences or themselves. Rather, it is ‘imagined’ and appears from nowhere. I believe that imagination is filtered through our personal experiences, not, perhaps, experienced in reality, but through knowledge, and our empathy for other people’s experiences, and that sometimes we are not aware of how our subconscious may throw out material for creativity.
The inspirational process I have gone through outside my consciousness had spurred me on to research this further. But for now, here’s Don Henley with Boys of Summer, a song that is not in my record collection.