What strikes me as curious about the stories I’ve written so far is how much symbolism from my own life has sneaked its way in without me even being aware of it. I don’t add anything deliberately, so the only conclusion I can come to is that this must happen by the magic of a purely subconscious urge to season the work with whatever senses those real-life objects and symbols conjured up inside me when I was younger.
Take marbles, for example – those mysteriously beautiful, spherical and ethereal objects so many children have enjoyed playing with for hundreds of years. They inadvertently became the tool Frankie, the lunatic in my latest dark comedy novel, uses to break out of the most difficult-to-break-out-of jail cell in the old city. It made me smile to create such a devilish, twisted character, a man who thinks nothing of committing the most heinous crimes, and then to give him an emotional affiliation with the humble, twinkling marble. I suppose it’s my way of saying that even those people we are most afraid of, who scare us into submission with their wicked ways, were just children once upon a time attracted by the same shiny surfaces we were.
In the same book, Frankie has only one equal criminally-speaking – the protagonist of the story who goes by the name of Freak – a wily con artist brought up in the circus with a few unexpected tricks up his sleeve. He plays cards to great effect and especially likes a game to reveal something about the minds of the people he meets. Yet again, my own experiences seep, inadvertently, into the work. As a child, my two grandfathers taught me how to play cards, each in different ways. One preferred the risk of poker, the subterfuge of rummy; the other liked the steady, silent, personal battle of patience. I was teased mercilessly and with love by the two of them and I think their personalities came through when I slipped into the fictional cloak of Freak.
I don’t only write dark comedies. My other passion is for psychological thrillers. Many places, objects and people have knowingly or unknowingly inspired settings, characters and moods within different fictional chillers. As a child during playtime and daydreaming, the deep mystery that dark, dangerous places forged within me has stayed there, festered and then crept out into stories like Slaughterhouse and This Is Where You Join Me. Both of these drew particularly on my lifelong love of the wilderness, taking inspiration from landscapes that are both beautiful and isolated and buildings within those locations that offer up possibilities for getting lost or facing dangers. I’ve lived in cities – London being one of them – and they have their underworlds, but rural locations like the Cairngorms in Scotland, the Cumbrian Lakes, the Dark Peak of Derbyshire (where I now have a base) really fill me with a desire to write terrifying things.
I want everything I create to have meaning, excitement, to invoke curiosity. I’m glad to see, as I read back through what I’ve already written, that my childhood spirit for adventure, that unstoppable desire to explore places some adults warned me against, comes through. It means the people who read what I make can go to those places and meet those people, too, and experience all the emotions I experienced for themselves.
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