MAZY RUN 3 – WRITING ‘THE SEARCH FOR ETHAN’

ethan cover5x8 title moved

Previously on Another Mazy Run…Birth, education, friendship, music, madness and …well just scroll down for details if you’ve missed it. (That’s the wee spinny thing if you’re using a mouse, or the up / down thing on the right)

Right, so I finished last time on the cusp (what a great word) of writing a book of some sort. Firstly, why? Having covered my love of music previously I had got to the point of realising that, well, that just wasn’t going happen. So what then? Well, throughout the musical journey, intertwined every note of the way were its two cousins, literature and cinema (or books and films to you and me). Certainly the stuff I was into was intertwined with rock n roll. Mean Streets, Good fellas, Performance are saturated in the imagery of rock n roll, never mind their soundtracks. And the corrupting influence and danger injected by ‘On the road, Junky, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas… unquestionable. But it was a two way street, each daring the other to go a little further…further still, Kerouac, Burroughs, to Iggy, Patti Smith, Malcom McLaren. Anyway you get the idea. The point is that far from being the coffee cream of the creative chocolate box, in the current X Factor reality (with a very small r) and given the vibrant indie scene (which I’ll cover in a future blog, maybe the next one, but anyhow…), the point is…writing is the new rock n roll!

But write what? I’d toyed with the idea of a film script and indeed one of the first parts of what would become ‘The Search for Ethan’ (Let’s call it Ethan from here on in), was written as just that, or my untrained, pig ignorant interpretation of a film script. However I quickly decided to go down the novel route. Why? Well, down to the intertwining mentioned earlier. You write a film script you get a film. You write a novel, it gets turned into a film…a film with a soundtrack. The Holy Trinity right there. So, how do you write a novel? I had no idea…and didn’t really want to. When I was first thinking about writing I had a look in my local Waterstones’s for books on getting published and left with ‘How to write a novel and get it published…for dummies’. I’m not shitting you. However in my defence I never even looked at the first part, only the part on publishing which is a subject for another time. The reason I mention it at all is that at that time the idea that someone could teach you how to write a novel seemed…a bit like painting by numbers. I’ve come to be a lot less arsey about the merits of creative writing training the more high quality stuff I read by such trained people, but in the beginning the old punk / beat, three chord, first thought best thought Hendrix and Buddy Rich were self-taught dude was alive and kicking for all he was worth. In my mind, at that time at least, untrained = unconstrained. It also meant I could just get on with the fucking thing which is always a very attractive and convenient notion.

So getting fucking on with it (for the love of God please, you rambling old twat), what to write about? Well I suspect what you’re supposed to do is plan out your story to a reasonable degree, your characters, figure it all out then start at the beginning and work through to the end. I suspect…But with all the patience of a pebble (WTF?) I just dived in. Well, other than that it would be about two boys, one good, one bad, drugs would be involved, a tragedy would occur, a tiger mum would try and protect her son, whichever one that turned out to be, and redemption would form some part of the story. Then I dived right in. I would just sit down and write at least 1,000 words, whatever came to mind, linked however tenuously with that theme. No two chapters were written in order, which is pretty easy when you don’t have a story. As mentioned, initially I thought about a film script and the first thing I wrote was the two main characters, (at that time unnamed, called only GG (good guy) and BG (bad guy) in a night club, under the sub title ‘charity fuck’. This eventually found its home about 2/3rds of the way in. However, quickly I decided on a full blown novel and that’s the way it progressed, writing 1,000 word set pieces. As my moods can swing about a fair bit I decided to put that to use. When upbeat I’d tried to write funny (hopefully) material. Angry, write dark, bitter and twisted material. Depressed write despair (or nothing). It seemed to work and certainly I found out pretty quick that trying to work against the emotional grain was futile, generating only shit and resentment of the ‘why the fuck am I doing this variety’.

So on I went like this and as I did the story developed by itself, as did the characters who really are the story, driven mainly by dialogue. Some of it was pretty intense set as it was in the late teenage years, which are the most emotionally turbulent years of your life. They also consequently remain in many ways the most vivid even after all this time. Throw in drugs, sex, and death, well it ain’t going to make ‘The Readers Friend’. Is it autobiographical? Are the characters real people? The short answer is no. That said some things you can only write about with any authenticity or conviction if you’ve had some direct experience. Imagination needs something to work with. I’ll take the fifth on the rest. Most of the time I felt like I was just typing it up, keeping out the way, as surprised as any reader when things took an unexpected twist. I remember sitting in Tesco carpark when the concept of the subtle tie in with the film ‘the Searchers’ came to me, (and  hence the title)…this was after having already written at least two thirds of the words. It was at this point that I decided to put the ‘set pieces’ into some sort of order, or editing as I believe it’s called. Not a new experience as it’s similar to song writing where you come up with bits then decide ‘ok that’s the chorus, that’s the verse, intro, middle eight’. I then had the chance to read this thing I’d been working on for so long for the first time, which was a pretty special experience. It was even more amazing that it hung together as well as it did, considering my methodology. There were gaps to be filled as I knew there would be, and filled they were, in an equally random order dictated by mood. And suddenly…it was done. ‘The Search for Ethan’ a novel by Robert Cowan.

So, what’s it about? Buy the fucking thing and find out you cheap sonofabitch!…I’ll never get the hang of this marketing thing eh?…In some ways it explores the ambiguities of morality. Good people do bad things and vice versa. And does the notion of morality mean anything in a world where the killing of civilians can be deemed collateral damage rather than murder, depending on who’s doing the killing. In my mind it’s a story of friendship and trying to navigate the reefs we all have to steer, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It’s about growing up, fucking up, hope, mercy and redemption. There’s more info on the ‘books’ tab up at the top. What did I learn from the process? Mainly that I can’t proofread for shit. No matter how many times I went over it, I just couldn’t get all the typos out on my own. I didn’t know the difference between to and too as well as I thought (and me with a B Higher English too (Ha, got you that time you two / three lettered can’t make up your mind bastard…I think)). Commas and hyphens still remain as mysterious as women. Next time I’ll get a pro to do it. Also, having read some great books, I’ve also learned that the idea that formal creative writing training is an impediment to great and imaginative writing is ridiculous, showing only a seriousness and determination to excel at the craft. (I’m not sure, but I suspect the authors of such greats as ‘Fornicating Frieda’ aren’t Oxford BA Lit graduates.) Me, I’m too lacking in discipline to do anything but admire theirs, but I’m happy I have a methodology that works for me.

NEXT TIME

Possibly the greatest thing I learned was that the expression ‘No man is an island’ is true even with such a seemingly solitary pastime as writing. More of that in the next Mazy Run on the Indie writing scene and the impending ‘Rogue’ short story anthology. Wipe yer drool. PS: if enjoyed feel free to click follow and share the link…I might even send you chocolates…coffee creams, but still…

REVIEWS

WEE ROCKETS BY GERARD BRENNAN Set in Belfast after the peace process, this is a gritty, authentic story of a teenage gang who roam its streets looking for escape. Not from the ‘Troubles’, which are fading into history, albeit tentatively, but from the universal boredom inflicted on all older teenagers. To paraphrase some other sons of the province, ‘They need excitement and they need it fast’. But Brennan doesn’t just throw out some laddish exploits to amuse, though there are some funny moments. No, rather than encouraging us to embrace the wee lad within, he does the opposite. The book begins with the gangs mugging of a grannie and the main characters decision to get out, away from that life, seeing it for the dead end that it is. I’m not one for plot spoilers, so no details. What this is, is an engrossing story of a young man’s search for who he is, and where he came from, intensified by the return of his dodgy,’ jack the lad’ father. It’s as story of relationships stretched and strained by fluctuating loyalties and spiralling desperation, made real by the believability of Brennan’s characters and dialogue. All of this would count for little, to me at least, if there wasn’t a plot to match it. Guess what?…Good guess. Never predictable or pedestrian, always entertaining, Brennan storytelling is more than up to the job. Another impressive Irish export…Their whiskeys pretty good too. A wee glass of Bushmills while you read it would do no harm. Highly Recommended.  

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