3 April 2006

How To Make A Book part two: Ideas

(This post follows on from part one: History and Early Stages)

Whenever I show my work to people they almost invariably ask where my ideas come from. It's not the easiest question because there is no single, definitive answer (well, I could say 'My ideas come from inside and outside my head' but I'd be revealing nothing by stating an absolute and undeniable truth). The process of thinking up and developing ideas varies from person to person and from project to project and is very hard to describe.

As a general rule, the process begins when an event or a conversation or something observed or something read or something dreamed snags somewhere in the consciousness of the creator. Let's call this snag an idea. The creator will fiddle around with this idea for any amount of time (from a fragment of a second to a lifetime) and (to muddle metaphors) the idea will percolate and filter through their conscious and unconscious mind until it comes out as one or more creative acts. Sometimes an idea arrives near enough fully formed and the process is short. The Elvys turned up in my head a fraction of a second after I read the blogpost that inspired it and didn't change much on its way to the page. At other times the path is longer and with twists and turns and variations. Treadmill started out as an online conversation about a hated job where I expressed my loathing of the place, the organisation and what I had to do there through the metaphor of the pedals. Quite pleased with this, I cut and pasted the conversation into a document and turned it into a poem that I didn't like as much as the idea. A couple of years later, I started doodling comic strips for my blog and decided to see if the failed poem might work better as a short comic strip and the idea finally found a form that (in my opinion) did it justice.

Like a proper romantic (albeit a proper pomo romantic), the seeds of my latest birthday book were found in the environment around me and in the myths of my own childhood. Specifically, three industrial intrusions into the rural landscape of South Yorkshire and the myths my family and I generated to explain them.


When I was a child, my mother would often talk of the lines of electricity pylons as steel giants marching across the land, and the cooling towers of power stations as giant flower pots. Even as a child, the cooling towers looked more like beer tankards to me but the tropes stuck in my head. More recently, I regularly pass a sign that says 'HEAVY PLANT CROSSING' and this always prompts my daughter to ask 'What does THAT mean?', and any groan ups in the vicinity to speculate on the possible meanings and nature of HEAVY PLANT. These various thoughts have floated around my head for years, independent of each other and without ever finding an idea to properly attach themselves to.

Towards the end of November 2005, I suddenly remembered how long small had taken to complete and how little time remained to get the next book done. It seemed quite urgent and yet I had no tangible, substantial ideas, just a few general observations about what a children's book should and shouldn't be like. Scrabbling around my inner-fog for ideas, steel giants, flower-pots/beer mugs and heavy plants all strode out of the mist and demanded to be made use of. Nothing arrived fully formed - essentially (and hopefully, without sounding too vague or too pseuds corner) I plaited these various thoughts together and began to tease them out into a single narrative thread. I recalled my daughter stating, a couple of years ago, "I nearly know everything and pretty soon I will know everything" and decided to entwine that into the thread somehow. The thread became a ball of twine, rolling down a hill and picking up other ideas along the way. I still lacked a sense of what the finished book would be like, of where this thread was leading me. However, I also lacked the time to just let it happen at its own pace and so I started working with what I did have, sure that a book would emerge from this tangle of ideas.

(How To Make A Book continues in part three: First Story-board & Development)

1 comment:

Dick Jones said...

For one whose creative scale of operations is small, I find this fascinating, Dem. So much spadework. All power to you.