‘Clue’ began life as most (if not all) of my stories do, from something I saw. Wherever I go, whoever I’m with, I’m only partially present. Another part of me is feeding on the surroundings: recording sighs, defining smells, absorbing the way people speak, what they talk about. Questions emerge quite organically from these harvested fragments of reality, which subvert and tear off in a new direction. So ‘what if?’ and ‘how?’ in turn scatter sparks which illuminate a path I can follow and my stories surface from the imagined answers.
I’m a culture junkie. I get inspiration from odd half-formed things, nature and litter. These objects get interwoven with song lyrics, with images, with lines from movies, or lines overheard in the park. When I’m not at work on a long project like a novel, I like to jumpstart my writing sessions by reading a poem aloud. Poetry makes me focus on rhythm and cadence, traits in writers I greatly admire. Their stories may not be speaking loudest in the room demanding that page-turning thrill – but it’s their work I return to over-and-over, re-reading passages just for the pleasure of their skilled prose.
From reading others I access the power to deepen what I conjure. At this year’s London Short Story Festival Adam Marek used the analogy of composting materials and experiences allowing them to break down until they can be fully absorbed into your work. There’s a further hierarchy of how easily an influence can be decomposed to form part of your unconscious’s fertiliser; like a pumpkin, a literary colossus is less easy to process – throw that onto the heap and it will take far longer to break down.
When I began to write ‘Clue’, I was on a train. I was interested first in capturing the rhythm of its movement, but that focus shifted into sound, then tone until the story careered off in the direction of desire and unrequited love.
Nothing fictive is truly autobiographical. Although parts of any story I write may have come from a place of personal contact, they twirl into another form entirely. ‘Shit I see on the way to yoga,’ started as a joke, but became a writing exercise I carried on for a while. I live on the edge of a lively estate and by the early mornings weird stuff has accumulated on the streets of my neighbourhood – debris remaindered from antics of the night before. Every day as I walked I noted items without attaching any meaning to them. (Once there was a nursing bra fastened correctly around the fence of the park and a superheroes miniature sword the size of a Twiglet on the ground beneath it; three photos taken in the seventies – damaged by the overnight rain, but still in tact and a fancy animal print scarf trickling into the grate of a drain). On a Saturday I’d take a look at the cumulative list and select three or four items at random to include in a story. Removing myself from my own life was a way to reign-in my predilections A.L. Kennedy said she was particularly fond (and therefore tended to overuse) of the word tawny. In my own work, it was probably the Argos catalogue. I’ve moved away from that era now. The stories come from different places, but they keep coming, and it’s a relief when they hang around.
© Zoe Ranson, 2015.