Hi, my name’s Laura, and I’m a novelist. Apparently.
The whole history of my writing endeavours until 2013, beyond Higher English at school, was snippets of angsty uni poetry and the odd scribbled story idea. Then, in a lucky and hilarious bit of serendipity, Microsoft search engine Bing (yes, really) contacted my Twitter account offering me free creative writing classes as part of a promotion. Nope, not a windup. Thus it was that I ended up at the local sixth form college with a wonderfully sarcastic Edinburgh-born writer called Miranda, a very mixed bunch of aspiring novelists, and me.
I was terrified. I’d not done any substantial piece of writing for a long time. It was all bottled up, filed away somewhere. I had also never read my writing aloud to a room of my peers. Our first exercise was a study in character; all our pieces were to be short, no more than 300 words. I’ve dug out the start of mine, so here it is:
The sun shone with a watery autumnal gleam over the identikit mock Tudor houses, illuminating their faux wooden beams and leaded windows. It lit up a scene of everyday mundanity. A young professional couple argued pointlessly over whose turn it was to take the baby in the convertible to the nursery. A frail Chinese lady with perma-pursed lips shuffled resentfully around her scruffy front garden, picking angrily at the weeds. With a hacking cough the French riding instructor’s car stirred balefully to life and put-putted off.
Almost nobody paid any attention to the burger van that had materialised overnight, flanked by burly, faintly menacing men.
Sophie clip-clopped into the close, designer heels sparkling in the pallid morning glow. She clutched a sheaf of brightly-coloured pamphlets to her chest. She beamed at the sight of the thugs, and trotted over to them.
‘Good morning! Can I interest you in one of these leaflets?’
Pfft, I thought. Pfft. Rotten words, they are. And then my classmates and teacher started their feedback. And they loved it. Eh? My scene-setting was apparently really good. Suburban mundanity done well. The naivety of the woman (a student activist, incidentally). Nice little details. I was flabbergasted. Eight weeks later, I had gone from being someone afraid to put words to paper to someone eager to show people my work, and look at theirs too. (Oh, I loved the man who worked for the local exam board who wrote like everything was Blade Runner, with the most electric tension running through his scenes. So good.)
That year, I discovered NaNoWriMo, the annual novel-writing challenge to write 50000 words in November. I started fleshing out some of my short exercises into something bigger, but various life events including getting a job conspired to get me up to 14000 words and no more. I parked creative writing for a year. The job came and went, life had some ups and downs along with it, and November came along again. I was 30, and not really sure what to do with myself.
Three things happened that gave me Ideas. Number one: I went to see Peter Gabriel at the O2 performing So. Words cannot adequately describe my love for this man; he is the reason I reactivated my Tumblr and why it’s full of men of prog rock in questionable outfits.
Number two: After the earth-shattering revelation that said Mr Gabriel fronted Genesis and they didn’t just do things like Invisible Touch, I browsed Youtube of a rainy late October afternoon, and found my way to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I was blown away. The music was sublime, the story arch both epic and confusing. The album just kind of stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Number three: I spotted a book on my shelf I’d been given as a birthday present a few years back, called ‘The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish legends’ by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill. It’s a super read; all the local myths and historical anecdotes of Scotland, sorted by region. The Edinburgh/Lothians map was covered in tiny mythological figures; the Royal Mile had ‘devils and demons’, Arthur’s Seat had ‘heroes and villains’, ‘fairies and trows’ played on Calton Hill, and ‘kelpies and water-spirits’ lived in Leith. All these creatures in my hometown and I didn’t even know it.
I spent the day writing some Ideas down, and the next day- November the 1st- I started NaNoWriMo for the second time, this time aiming to actually finish. And that was when Cavan swam into Edinburgh, and why I spent a month doing very little eating and sleeping but a whole lot of writing…