Now with added…Satire

I did not, and still don’t, consider myself to be a creative mind, so when it came to thinking of a story I drew an emphatic blank. Eventually I chose something unusual, something never done in novel form before to the best of my knowledge.

I landed on a Neanderthal comedy.

As with a lot of the writing community on Twitter, I’d be hard pushed to remember exactly when I made contact with John Drake, the focus of last week’s Indie Spotlight here on Fiction Can Be Fun. What I do know is that he has a great eye for the absurd, and great ear for comic dialogue. I’m always incredibly grateful (and amused) when I spot his tweets, and I am beyond chuffed that he’d agreed to give us an insight into the crossover between his life and his writing.

Without further ado, I’ll hand over to John. Give him a big hand guys, that’s right, make him feel welcome!

I didn’t enjoy English lessons in school; I hated that it involved lots of writing. I would have been far happier had I been able to summarise the novel “Of Mice And Men” with a couple of sentences explaining how it was a story of a friendship’s boundaries, and perhaps a nod to the importance of beans. I also dropped history at the first opportunity, aged fourteen, for the same reason. The idea that one day I would write a book, let alone three historical ones, was preposterous.

I never wrote a simple, cute story as a six year old, I never wrote one about playing football for my favourite team as a teenager, and I grew into adulthood without once picking up a pen in anger.

When, as a young twenty-something, I started work in a large sales office in Liverpool, England, colleagues would ask me to write their complaint letters to businesses they felt had wronged them. I enjoyed weaving their situation into a coherent and infallible grievance. But that was it. I still hadn’t written a single word of fiction, despite the gently growing calls from those around me. You should write a book they would say, as they often do. I would nod placatingly and ignore the well-meaning advice.

The tipping point, I think, was when I read the last available Terry Pratchett book a few years ago. I had devoured them in double quick time, along with the works of Douglas Adams, P G Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde and other satirical greats. I could find nothing similar out there for people like me. As the years wore on I began to think more and more that perhaps I could write something to combat this dearth. Almost three years ago, at the age of forty, I decided to give it a go with neither hope nor expectation that anything would come of it.

 I did not, and still don’t, consider myself to be a creative mind, so when it came to thinking of a story I drew an emphatic blank. Eventually I chose something unusual, something never done in novel form before to the best of my knowledge.

I landed on a Neanderthal comedy.

Before writing a single word I concluded only two things about the story; it would be full of wordplay and the Neanderthal main character would be an engineer. It is no exaggeration to say that was the sum total of my planning. I had no idea what the plot was, why he was an engineer (other than it being a humorous juxtaposition), nor how I was going to string out a story for seventy five thousand words with no points of reference other than some trees and perhaps a mountain. This was, literally, the first piece of fiction I had ever written. I opened up a blank MS Word document and stared at it for a while. Then I wrote:

‘The Sun had finally risen, slowly but inevitably, like an almost-too-heavy balloon’

    I must have read over it a dozen times. Yes, I was happy with that. It was thunderously lonely, but I liked it.

Now what?

Inexplicably, I chose to write a one hundred word scene where a goat falls of a rocky outcrop.

Great. Now what?

I had given no thought to the environment within which the story would happen, so I began to describe the scenery, with the main character sitting on the same rocky outcrop (though without the goat) as he scanned the landmarks. I named them in self-explanatory ways; Cave Mountain was a mountain with caves in it. Green Forest was a forest that was green, and so on. It was a natural progression, then, to have the secondary characters as simple, unimaginative Neanderthals in contrast to my engineer. This set the dynamic for the rest of the story and all I did was lay the tracks of the plot in front of me as I wrote. Before I knew it the main character had had enough of his tribe and had left them behind in favour of a hopeless adventure. I was motoring along, adding no more than a few words each day, until I finally wrote ‘The End’.

Terry Pratchett once said that the first draft is just you telling yourself the story, and this is certainly true of my writing journey, since I had no idea what the story was when I started. Come to think of it, the same can be said for when I was more than halfway through it too. I gave it out to family members, who came back with bits and pieces of valuable feedback. Once I had ironed out these issues and checked for continuity errors and typos, I was done.

Without boring you with the intricacies of every writing decision I have ever made, I applied the same logic to book two, a satire set during the Black Death, and book three, a Genghis Khan comedy. All three were chosen because I hadn’t seen anything similar before, and the last two were also subjects I had a general interest in.

You may be reading this and thinking that I have oversimplified the writing process in the same way that I condensed Of Mice And Men, but the honest truth is that I haven’t. That is it; the process that took me from not being an author, to being one.

All you have to do is tell yourself the story.

In the end, I told myself the story and it changed me in more ways than I could have imagined. I’m now a writer with a publisher and have four novels out there in the ether, all of which will outlive me. I no longer spend my days ticking boxes in a boring office job. Instead I travel through my imagination and spend my days turning ‘what if’ ideas into storylines.

I am, literally, living the dream.

Several people in history have noted that “If you do something you love you will never work a day in your life” and this is absolutely true. I love writing, and it seems I have some level of talent for it. Being able to do it and pay the bills at the same time is something for which I will be grateful for as long as it remains sustainable. It started out as a simple hobby, then morphed into a personal legacy for me to be sentimental about when I’m sitting under a tartan blanket in a rocking chair with too many grey hairs and not enough summers. Now it is a way of life. It defines my day to day living as my office job once did, but with more joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Could I imagine doing anything else? Not on your nelly.

© John Drake, 2021 (Main text)

©David Jesson, 2021 (Intro)

2 thoughts on “Now with added…Satire”

  1. I had a tough time in English class, too. My younger self would not have understood why I would ever want to be a writer. Language is so interesting, but there’s something about school that makes it seem so very boring. It wasn’t until I was out that I discovered how much I love reading and writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. James (and John), I find it fascinating to see both of you becoming writers despite not loving English. How encouraging for anyone currently in that same position to know that it doesn’t close off your options.

      Liked by 2 people

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