How do you start?

How did I start? (The only thing I can say for sure.) I read a huge amount and I played with words … and I told stories. It became a kind of game, when I was still at a distant school that was a long bus journey from home. I’d watch the people and I’d make up stories. I especially liked to make up funny stories – or to make ordinary stories funny, because that would make my dad laugh when we all sat round the dinner table that night.

I told stories to myself in the interminable long light summer evenings of my Scottish childhood. If truth be told, I tell versions of the same stories (pretty boring ones) to this day when I can’t get to sleep. The trick is not to allow them to get too exciting and thus wake yourself up to find out what happens. The best going-to-sleep story at the moment  is one that is actually about going to sleep – a rescued paleontologist who has dropped off a cliff into a deep cave in the Hindu Kush and is rescued by someone who is testing super-survival packs that will save her from hypothermia – and could lead to all-sorts of adventures if she doesn’t (and I don’t) fall asleep on cue. (Take this idea, by all means. Nobody is going to believe it!) The point is that your brain is always sub-consciously, or consciously, looking for a story. It leads to misunderstanding when you walk past people you know really well without acknowledging them, but it is what writers do. They watch for the bones of stories they haven’t made up yet, and they store them away like squirrels for a time when they will be needed. The above story could be (but isn’t going to be) analyzed for all sorts of influences from books I have read and people I have met recently, but it is a purely recreational activity …

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