My new book, The Binding, comes out next week, and it’s been a walk on the wild side for me.
I’d written about serious subjects before, but always in a funny way, and that was how I planned to write The Binding. In fact I started it with a joke (What’s the difference between a teacher and a train? The teacher says, ‘Spit your gum out,’ and the train says ‘Chew, chew, chew!)
But the story seemed to have its own ideas. It dragged me, kicking and screaming, down an increasingly dark path.
All the way through the first draft, I kept telling myself I could pull it back later; I could make it funny at the redraft stage. But when it came to redrafting, the story refused to let me make it funny, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
So I did what I sometimes do when I feel stuck; I imagined that my book was something else. ‘Supposing it was a meal,’ I thought. ‘If I ordered it in a restaurant, what kind of meal would it be? How would I feel when the waiter brought it to my table?’
I imagined I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for the waiter to bring my meal. I was expecting him to bring a very spicy, hot curry, too strong to eat, because that was what I thought I had written. So you can imagine my surprise when he placed a plate of beige potato stew in front of me. I was really disappointed! I don’t like bland food at all.
I realised my reluctance to let The Binding be the serious dark story that it wanted to be had resulted in me pulling my punches all the way through the first draft; it had fallen somewhere between the light frothy story I wanted to write, and the sinister story it wanted to be.
Then I knew what I had to do with my redrafting. I had to stop trying to make it more comfortable for me and let it have more bite.
I didn’t enjoy writing dark as much as I always love writing funny, but it did feel exciting to have a story I couldn’t completely control, and I’m glad I was able to go with it in the end, because I definitely don’t think it’s still potato stew!
If the book you are writing or reading was a meal, what would it be?