It’s not often I write about my writing. Maybe the odd reference, but a whole piece about it feels more than a little self-indulgent. Still, I won’t let that stop me…
For a host of reasons, Ravens Gathering is set in the late 1980s and most – if not all – of my stories will be based in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I realised this meant they’d appeal to people with fond memories of those times, especially as they’d be more likely to get the popular culture references. In RG those include Inspector Morse, Columbo and Doctor Who (okay, we still have The Doctor, and the others are repeated, but my point’s still valid).
So, having something of a nostalgic bent myself, I joined some online groups set up to reminisce about those times. Most posts are based on movies, music and TV, and seeing these posts flash up on my screen does bring a warm glow.
Any aficionado will instantly know which one I’m talking about but, for the ignorant among you, I’ll explain shortly.
Apart from childhood memories, the image also reminded me of a lesson I’d learnt when it came to creating stories. I deliberately say creating stories, because the one I’ll refer to here hasn’t been written yet, even though the original idea came to me as a teenager (I haven’t been lying about my propensity for bone-idleness when it comes to writing).
When I get an idea for a story, it’s generally a broad outline and the theme tends to trigger certain scenes in my mind. When I came up with Ravens Gathering, for example, it was clearly going to be creepy and the first image I had involved furniture coming to life. That scene’s still in there (so I’ll say no more about it – that’s spoiler enough for now) and it’s one of my favourites in the book.
The story I created in my teens was originally called Leave Them to Die, a title representative of the lesser quality action movies of the time. It will be changed when I finally get round to writing it – let’s face it, that’s just a bit too retro.
This was an action thriller: lots of guns, terrorists, an extended car, bus and Tube chase, and a threat to crash an airliner carrying a nuclear bomb into London. In my head, it’s evolved over the years and I suspect the emphasis on action may reduce a little in favour of plot and character.
Originally, the climactic scene involved the airliner attempting to land at an airport, but the undercarriage had been destroyed and a crash landing might set off the bomb. To overcome this obstacle, our hero implements an ingenious plan to use (wait for it…) buses to replace the undercarriage.
Now, the flaws in this scheme are obvious and plentiful, but I’ve seen much more improbable stuff in movies than a plane landing on three buses that are racing to match its landing speed. Eighteen year-old me was happy with it. It would be tense, nail-biting stuff that would have the reader on the edge of their seats – and just think how good it’ll look when they make the movie!
As I’ve matured, though, I’ve reined it in and the climax plays out somewhat differently now.
But what’s all that got to do with Thunderbirds? I hear you ask.
The series was re-run in the 1980s and I’m not ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it when I got in from work (personally, I think shows like this are wasted on kids.)
However, the first episode involves an airliner (Fireflash anybody?) which has to make a landing without being able to use its undercarriage. Of course, International Rescue don’t have to worry about commandeering buses. They’ve got specialist equipment designed for this very emergency and they produce it for what is… well, a tense, nail-biting scene that has the viewer on the edge of the seat.
And if this is bringing back memories you want to relive, here it is.
So, watching this again, I realised that, aside from its implausibility, my climactic scene was a complete rip-off.
Of course, in those days, I was convinced I was capable of producing completely original stories. But it’s become clear that this isn’t the case, that there are only so many basic storylines. And a lot of what we write is inspired by things around us, including the influences we had in our formative years. The important thing is to make it readable, and you do that with characters and a strong story, even if some of those elements have been used before.
What would be a mistake, though, would be to take something as unique as that Thunderbirds scene, which uses futuristic technology in a far-fetched way to entertain children (I know…) and try to incorporate it into a contemporary thriller for adults. Even if those adults yearn for their childhood and are massive Gerry Anderson fans, it ain’t gonna work.
Sometimes, I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve taken a while to get round to writing. Having said that, frankly I’d be delighted if, whenever someone picked up one of my stories, another Gerry Anderson phrase sprang to mind….