Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creativity, Research and chance

The chicken or the egg, creativity or research, setting or plot, which comes first?
In my case I find more and more that research modifies what begins as an idea for a story. Of course, chance plays its part as well. To avoid being totally enigmatic but without giving too much away about my latest 'literary effort', I'll use the current endeavour as an example.
First came an idea, let's call it chance meetings. In my mind a vague plot begins to form. I need to do some research and the local public library here in Whangerei seems a good place to start (it's free!). During the first afternoon of research, all fascinating stuff, the feeling grows that whilst the subject matter is interesting it\'s going to be a fairly monumental task to write, say, 150,000 words, but I don't want to abandon the idea because I think it's got a lot of potential. Leaving the library, chance takes me (us) past a second-hand book shop, which Cadey suggests we go into to look at who publishes children's books. Not a bad idea, remember I'm still trying to move the 'Tim Project' forward. Incidentally on the subject of Tim, I'm very happy with the first sketches of some of the characters in the stories and have a good feeling about things happening. Anyway, once inside I get side-tracked (as I often do in second hand book shops) and wind up talking to the shop owner about local illustrators. That conversation, although interesting, didn't lead me to the illustrator who I hope to be collaborating with, but it did lead me to reminisce about times spent browsing the various bookshops in Winchester when I 'were nobbit a lad'. I hadn't intended to buy any books (got to keep the weight down on the boat, y'know) but I spotted a couple of shelves that were labelled 'unusual books' or something similar. I couldn't resist taking a quick peep and after a mere forty five minutes or so unearthed a couple of finds.
One of them involves the finding of the memoirs of an Ottoman secret agent; a fairly well used literary device. On reading the book (not bad, a sort of Flashman-type yarn I must do a Google search and see if there were any follow-up stories) my original idea became slightly modified; the book about chance meetings could have been written by a third party, or at least the rough notes were written by a third party which were then discovered some years later and turned into a book at the behest of one of the third party's descendants (enigmatic? Moi?). Who wrote the rough drafts? A doctor in Victorian London of course (where the hell did that come from?).
It turns out (and this was a total surprise to me) that these notes, discovered in the loft of an old cottage in deepest Hampshire, in fact form part of an unfinished autobiography. If there was to be any auto-biographical element to the story, I firstly had to 'invent' the previously-unsuspected character, which involved amongst other things inventing a family tree, both of his ancestors and as it soon turned out his descendants. I also needed to research how one became a doctor in Victorian times, which in turn led to research into medical knowledge and practice in Victorian times. This, for reasons that will become clear once the book is finished (and published!) led me into the study of psychiatric treatment in Victorian times. More scientific than one might have thought, incidentally. I then suddenly discovered that the manuscript was in fact a collection of case histories and 'my man' had an interesting, if secret, history.
So dear readers, let me introduce you to an unsung and hitherto unknown hero of the Victorian science of psychological profiling (amongst other things),
Augustus Pierre LeMesurier.