Ever since I can remember, I’ve been imagining disasters. I’ll hear a creak of a floorboard in the middle of the night and imagine that a team of highly trained burglars are currently sifting through my belongings. Or I’ll look at the glass wall in the London Aquarium and imagine the crack tracing its way across the surface before exploding into a million pieces and flooding the viewing area. Or – always a favourite – I’ll imagine the huge lorry on the M4 outside my office window bursting through the barrier and plummeting into the park below. There really is no end to the sorts of calamities that I can come up with.
And I don’t have to try hard at all – the minute I start to daydream, that’s what I think about. For years I mentioned this to no-one, wondering if it made me a bit strange. None of my friends ever suggested that they saw the potential for a velociraptor to leap out of a passing goods lift.
The interesting thing about all these disasters is that I don’t think about the horror of the situation. I spend my time thinking about what I would do – how I would fix it, or escape. I plan elaborate strategies to get out of the house undetected while those burglars are rummaging through my desk. What would I use to scale the outside of the building? How would I secure it? How can I hide it from the burglars? Where would I run too? I can get to significant levels of detail in my planning. Sometimes it’s almost a disappointment to work out that the creak is actually just the dog wandering about.
It wasn’t until I started hanging out with some writers that I realised I wasn’t alone. It turns out that having a vivid, disaster-filled imagination is extremely useful when it comes to thinking up the next plot. In fact, I have to think about pulling things back sometimes, giving my characters a bit of break from unending misfortune. When people ask me where I get my ideas, I can honestly say that they come from all around me.
I’m still not sure that other people – even authors – spend quite as much time disaster planning as I do. Let me know if you are a catastrophe junkie too!