My most obvious profile characteristic is that the middle section is rounder than it should be. However, casting deflection aside it would be fair to say the four primary components that shape my writing profile are music, history, a sense of community and humour.
The first formal foray into the writing world was a monthly column in a music newsletter coming out of Canada. The writing quality was poor, largely because I had no idea what I was doing. Since shifting from programming to pen, however, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the various aspects of writing including, but not limited to, characterisation, plot, story arc, dialogue, showing not telling, point of view, tension, and suspense. Now, I barely know what I’m doing.
An initial writing course drew me back to one of my first loves which is history. One assignment in particular induced me to research the carillon, a musical feature of many cities in the Low Countries. The study started from the invention of bells and finished in the present with the commissioning of a peace carillon in my home city, an act of reconciliation to one of the many tragedies of World War I. That led to an essay which was accepted by the Church Times and became my first piece of published non-fiction. The research also led to a commission to translate the narrative for an exhibition by the Museum Klok en Peel in The Netherlands.
Yet, the deeper I dug into that initial course the more clear it became that my true interest lies in fiction. That, together with a feeling of increasing discomfort at the sharpening polarisation of society, created the spark for two projects. The first, a novel, follows a poor family living on the border between a racist and a more diverse neighbourhood in 1950s Los Angeles. Action occurs against a backdrop of true historical events and in the vortex of the development of rhythm and blues. It’s a comedy.
The second project is more of an exercise at the moment. I’ve come to be fascinated with dialogue and wish to dive into it as deeply as possible. A quiet whisper in the recesses of my mind persistently suggests that the right phrase, delivered by the right character at exactly the right moment is, like a picture, worth a thousand words, or at least several dozen. The project is difficult. There is no real action or plot. It takes place on the front porch of a community store in a remote town of eastern Maine where characters engage in debates, arguments, the occasional dust-up or wandering philosophical explorations. Each scene is tinted with elements of social commentary, allegory and humour. The project is more laboratory than factory. The underlying objective is to learn to write dialogue.
Without doubt one of the most difficult things to do well whether it be writing, radio, film or any other medium is to be funny. The Marx Brothers took humour extremely seriously and yet even they didn’t get it right every time. It’s subjective. It’s ephemeral. It varies with culture and creed. It is so easily abused. Yet that is the siren song in my ears. From the very beginning this writing project has been about learning, working very hard and, most of all, enjoying the process. I work to a single commandment inspired by Ray Bradbury: If it ain’t fun you’re doing it wrong.