writing

Chasing Lions

I love being a writer.  I get paid for Making Things Up.  Making Things Up is the easy bit.  Putting them together is harder.

I made up characters on long car journeys and tried them out on my husband.  That’s how I came up with The Honourable Mrs Veronica Thumping-Jolly, who always wears pearls at one end and wellies at the other because she might be having tea with a duchess or trudging about in a paddock.  My son and I made up the word ‘twide’ as a result of a game of Scrabble, and we knew that twide was a kind of twine made out of reeds.  We knew that it has to be mashed up and softened in a shed called a mecessary, because it makes a mess, but it’s a necessary mess.

A village came to mind, a happy, quirky little village round a lake where everybody does lots of jobs and they make wonderful things out of twide.  It’s called Twidings-on-Lullwater.   I took my mother’s middle name, Elizabeth, and my mother-in-law’s, Andrina, and made Drina, and liked her very much.  After Elizabeth Andrina I thought she should have a simple surname like Jones, but she wouldn’t have it, so i went into the garden, looked at what was growing, and called her Elizabeth Andrina Snapdragon.  (Good thing it wasn’t the rhubarb.)   Oh, and a circus turned up.

Soon I had a whole family of Snapdragons and a retired circus lion with false teeth.  Well why not?  I wanted a lion with false teeth.  My book, my lion.  Drina’s cousins the Fiddlesteps turned up… and so did a nasty person who arrived in the village with some sinister plans… I called him Gerbil Cravat.  There’s something a bit strange about gerbils.  Cravats, too.

So I had a place, a setting for my story.  I had characters that I loved.  I had a villain.  What could go wrong?

I didn’t have a plot.  At least, I did, but it didn’t quite work.  I tried again.  Neither did that.  I must have gone back to that book three or four times before I realised I was making it much too complicated.  I made it simpler, stronger and funnier.  Writing is as much about what you leave out as what you leave in, so I kicked out anything that slowed it down.  And finally, with a lot of shaping and rewriting, all these pieces made their jigsaw just right.  Sometimes you have to get it wrong before you get it right.

So that, I suppose, is the story behind the story of The Summer Lion and now that it’s September I want it to be summer again so that I can sit on a rock and dabble my feet in Lullwater Lake even though it doesn’t exist.  I hope to go back there one day.  What is Twidings like in winter?  I want to know.

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