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The Muse

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

I guess I have something of a motif, certainly on social media, in that I have a muse. In much the same way that Dexter Morgan had a 'dark passenger', so the muse is that driving force that motivates me to write. The unseen partner that whispers all those dark, delightful and twisted ideas in my ear. Who throws tantrums and screeches in impotent fury when I don't get to write anytime soon.

Not all the people I meet realise I'm an author, let alone a horror author. There have been those instances where after learning I'm an author, they ask 'what do you write' and I ask them to guess. While I can't remember those answers, on hearing I write horror, the usual response is some degree of surprise. And then come the follow-up questions. Like 'why horror?' And 'where do you get you ideas from?'

In terms of the 'why?', it's the villainy. From an early age, stories we're introduced to have that villainy; even something as seemingly innocent as The Lion King. Yes, it's a Disney film, yes there's a happy ending (at least for Simba) but let's not forget that Mufasa was murdered by his brother. Death by stampede. What horror does is take that villainy to more extreme and insidious levels. And I'd grown up with a lot of horror; Rabid, Scanners, the Evil Dead, An American Werewolf In London, Dracula, The Kindred, Phantasm, Poltergeist, et al.

Which now brings us to, 'where do you get your ideas from?'

I guess I've always had an active imagination. I can remember some of my earliest dreams. The earliest one I remember (back when I was younger than ten years old) was that there were two of me. A human me watching from behind a glass observation screen, and the other me - as a vampire. Complete with a black car and two women, pulling up somewhere that looked like a sunset desert. Other dreams I had were me being hunted/chased through the house by a dinosaur. The earliest one of those I can remember was a T-rex in the back garden looking into the dining room and me hiding under the table, as if that would make it alright. In the dream, I bolted for the front door and ran down the street. This was years before Jurassic Park. Subsequent dreams over later years involved me being naked, or at least in some stage of undress. And nearly always barefoot.

In the context of writing, I'm grateful that I get ideas faster than I can write them. In the earlier days of getting an idea for a story, I used to scribble them on the back of a shop receipt. I think on one occasion, I may even have written the idea - or potential story title - in the steam on the bathroom mirror. Thankfully, smartphones are useful things, so I've jotted many an idea on the notepad app.

As far as the inspiration goes, it's a question of what would I like to see, or what would be a cool idea. It used to be a case of looking through open submission calls and seeing if there was any theme that spoke to me. The disadvantage there is that I'm writing only if there's a particular topic that moves me. That grew stale when I realised if there was a submission call that spoke to me, I'd have to take time to prepare something. Now, as I'm 'always' writing, there's more chance I'll already have something good to go when the right call comes.

Most of the stories I write take place in London, so when I'm out and about in the city, it could be anything that sets off the muse. From a lift in a glass tower in East London, or a late night commute on London Underground in South London. Don't believe me? "Sunset Is Just The Beginning" - all because a co-worker threw a spider at another co-worker; back in my account manager days. "Forfeit Tissue" - for all the times I spent a late night in the Jazz Café up close to the stage with the likes of Maceo Parker or the Average White Band. Not the kind of scenario you'd want to be in if a fire broke out. "Just Him" - for all the fruitless nights out, left with trying to keep warm and awake on the nightbus home. "Kin" for where the wind blows around a quiet house. Seriously; it could be anything. Because my work is set very much in the real world, what speaks to me is to take those everyday characters - including the city itself - and nudge their narratives to somewhere dark and insidious. Old. Young. Gay. Straight. Employed. Jobless. Newly-wed. Divorced. Victims. Bullies. And more besides.

For all the time I spend doing this, that and the third during the day, the muse comes alive at night. There's something about night that speaks to me; not only because it's when the house and neighbourhood are quiet, but also because nuances are profound at night. Wind rattling the windows in the frame. Silence in the room. A creak from somewhere else in the house. Those are the times when my ideas truly come alive - when those nuances speak to me. While there's violence and drama in my work, I pride myself on the nuance, the pacing. Playing with whether it's the characters or the audience who are ahead of or behind the curve. Yes, I can write during the day (as long as I have that quiet and solitude) but the ideas come alive after dark. Whether it's a fire at night or a cemetery at dawn - night brings those ideas into focus. One thing I can't/won't do is work on more than one idea at a time. Yes, the muse is generous with me, but I never like the idea of writing multiple projects at once. The closest I'll get to that is to maybe write one, and do basic clean-up of typos on another one in-between.

More often than not, there's a quote that precedes my work - the hors d'oeuvre that sets the tone and hints at the story to come. Like, "There are no wild animals until Man makes them so." - Mark Twain (and I love that one). Those, too, are work for the muse - and it's not unheard of that I spend hours looking for the right one. But when I find the right one, it fits like a glove (which pleases the muse no end). And because the story starts with a quote, that alone gives me a feel of where I want the story to go and how I want it to get there. I'll do an outline and research, but not a framework so rigid that it doesn't allow me to improvise. The muse speaks to me whenever she wants, even if it's not convenient. Still, the business of writing - let alone the plotting/outlining, editing, etc. can be time-consuming - especially when I (thankfully) have more ideas to write. As such, I write as quick as I can - to the point that my first drafts are sloppy with typos. But at least they're finished first drafts.

Currently I'm about halfway on the first draft of the new novel. Already the muse has been bugging me with more ideas about what she wants to see/do next. All I'll say at this point is that it'll be something new and different for me. Of course, the muse doesn't care. And she usually gets what she wants; especially since we continue to serve each other well.



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