I don’t believe a writer can write well unless he or she has experiences to draw on. That’s not an age thing either. When I was sat in my room, bashing out my words, I was sixteen. Not much to go on except a vivid imagination, and a desire to know. This set me on a road of discovery, about a lot of things, always keeping an open mind, logging it all away in my mind for later use. A lot of the people I met in those days now grace the pages of my books, but they may not recognise themselves. Like I say, I use my imagination too. I remember when I was doing karate, I went to visit a guy who was doing a demonstration on aikido. I said to him, ‘Yeah, it looks cool, but what would you do if someone tried to punch you in the face?’ So he looked at me and smiled. ‘Why don’t you try?’ So I did, and he had me in knots, threw me around like a piece of wet tissue, which I felt like by the time he’d finished with me! That taught me a lot. If you read my thrillers, you’ll see exactly what it taught me. That’s just one example, but there are many.
My publishers were interested in ‘The Well of Despair’, the book that had been plagiarised by my lovely publisher over in the States (note intense use of sarcasm here). My new ones had read it and they liked it, but I would have to change the title. But I loved the title! A good friend of mine at work gave me a super suggestion, ‘The Well of CONSTANT Despair’. And that was it. They published it, and soon they wanted a sequel. That got me to thinking. I’d never envisaged a sequel. And what began to run around in my head was the idea that, in order to do a sequel, I needed a lot of back story. In others words – a prequel. The trilogy of terror was about to be born.
I set The Accursed Dawn, just like the Well, on Alderney, a small island in the English Channel where I had lived and worked for 5 years. It was an island riddled not only with numerous German World War Two bunkers, but a wealth of very painful history. The Germans had taken over a virtually deserted Alderney at the beginning of the war, and had immediately begun to fortify it. Not only that, they established work camps there. And, most disturbingly, the only concentration camp on British soil. Russian prisoners and Spanish dissidents were sent there, and many hundreds died. I learned horrific stories, shameful events. Only very recently have I discovered the story of the Spanish dissidents, sent there through a deal struck by Hitler and Franco. It makes for disturbing reading. Nobody knows what became of those prisoners. It is a very heart-rending tale.
I needed to tone down the story I was writing. It wasn’t a ‘historical novel’ by any means, and it was written for young adults, but I used snippets. The bunkers, the tunnels, the atmosphere. I remember working in Germany, in Bavaria, how a friend and I had come across a tiny door in the cellar of the hotel where we were employed. We prised it open, went through the narrow, twisting corridor that ran under the ground. It was dark and damp, and I had no idea where it led. In the Accursed Dawn I used that experience to describe how the charatcers felt, what they could smell and see. Those memories, and the geography of the island, all combined to help me create a tale of terror which set the scene wonderfully for the next book,The Well.
We can all do this. We can trawl through our past, look for people and incidences that have left a mark. It’s probably a good form of therapy, who knows. But the search for realism in fiction is a very important one. We have to be truthful. I feel extremely uncomfortable writing about things I don’t know about, and I always abandon those scenarios. No, I’ve never been shot, but I’ve seen someone who has. I watched, horrified. And he was ‘only’ hit in the arm. So when I write about that, I have some degree of knowledge. I once spoke to a group of teenagers about how to write, and one of then asked me about this idea of being truthful. ‘Ah yes, he said, but how can you write about a fantasy? A dragon. What’s it like seeing a dragon, belching fire. How do you do that?’ And I asked him if he’d ever been confronted by a dog, with its teeth barred, growling and snarling. Why not transfer that real experience of how you felt inside with the dog to a confrontation with a mythical dragon? Then multiply the feeling. Call on your imagination, but reinforce it with REAL experiences. Get inside your own psyche, explore YOURSELF before writing about others.
Well, next time I’ll continue with my jounrey. I was published now. How did that make me feel? All those years of waiting, now a reality. What next I wonder?
You find out about my witting by visiting my websites. For young Adults, visit www.glennstuart.co.uk. My latest book, ‘INTERLOPERS FROM HELL’ is due out very soon. For my adult work, visit www.stuartgyates.com where you can read an extract from my latest thriller BURNT OFFERINGS.
Thanks for coming along, and keep on reading.