That’s ‘zed’ not ‘zee’, by the way.
I gather from reading author interviews, a lot of questions they get from the great fawning unwashed at book signings is ‘where do you get your ideas from.’ Translation: please give me the secret of your success so I can give up the dead end job slowly consuming my soul one juicy morsel at a time and spend the rest of my life sailing the seven seas on a yacht made of platinum.
A lot of the time the answer is hard work, day in day out.
Now, while no one has ever asked me where I get my ideas from, what I’m proposing to do is give a run down, day by day until it is finished, of the next short story I plan to write. To wit:
A lot of my ideas come from personal experience – for instance, I story I just finished, ‘Mummy’, comes from my family experiences. Throw in an apocalypse and hey presto, you have a story. The idea for my next story, tentatively called ‘Organ’ (that’s what she said), but probably changing to ‘Pipes’ (with apologies to Stephen Volk – if you haven’t seen Ghostwatch, you bloody fools!) came from the idea of a haunted church organ. Yes, not much to go with there but here are the brief notes I wrote a while ago:
-husband and wife buy a deconsecrated church in a fading village by the sea. The church has a decrepit organ that hasn’t been played since it was installed 300 years ago. While he goes about refurbishing the organ and the church for habitable living, the villagers slowly turn against the couple. The wife begins to hear sounds that slowly drive her to the edge of madness. On the night the couple have friends over for dinner does the full horror of what the organ can do become apparent.
Now, that sounds a bit more menacing. There’s the old trope of a feuding couple (cf Children of the Corn) a remote village by the sea (cf The Wicker Man) populated by unfriendly villagers (cf An American Werewolf in London), menaced by an ancient evil long left undisturbed (cf anything by MR James, really).
As I’ve said before, no idea is wholly original. And the ending is deliberately vague because I’m not sure what the ending actually looks like.
Anyway, I was up late last night and I expanded on the idea a little:
Story idea regarding the church organ.
Couple move down to the coast, where husband has bought crumbling church with organ still intact. Plans to renovate it. Locals won’t have anything to do with it, so he has to source materials outside the area. One of the contractors disappears after lunch, his van unattended. The police have to be called after a few days to remove it. A brief search ensues, but his disappearance is put down to him running away from his wife.
There are caves under the ground, ‘place is riddled with them – pirates and the like’.
The current priest is extremely solicitous to his wife. Mourns the sale of the church, ‘but it was necessary to pay for all the…unpleasantness in the press’.
The wife is deeply unhappy to be here – she was convinced by her husband that the life would be better, but the remote location, the state of the church and the hostility of the villagers, makes her unhappy. She goes on walks and sees figures down on the beach that aren’t here anymore – her husband scoffs, says they’re likely hiding in the caves.
The renovations go on apace, and the husband invites their friend down the a celebratory dinner on a Friday night – a storm blows up. The friends are shallow and flighty, but impressed by the finished product. The priest is invited along also.
Their friends, having drunk too much wine, insist that the organ be played. It hasn’t been played for decades, and rumor abounds about it. A little drunk himself, the husband decides to do so, but the wife takes fright. The storm batters the church, the lights flicker and the organ is played. The sounds are deep and unearthly and the friends at first laugh merrily. But when the lights fall, leaving only the candles, strange shapes appear and the wife is sure she sees a figure in black moving closer to the organ with each flicker. Then, there is a crash of lightning and the husband has gone, as has the priest.
Now, you can see that the original idea, while intact, has been expanded upon. There are a couple of lines of dialogue, a deepening of the story, a new character in the form of the priest. The bones of the story are there. Later, I worked on the outline a bit more. Here’s a bit of it:
Background – village by the sea. Coast is riddled with caves and tunnels. Rumors were that villagers lay in wait during storms, luring ships to crash and sink on rocky outcroppings, claiming there goods. Now, the village has faded, with perhaps one hundred still living there, huddled against the rain and the cold and the isolation. Into this mix come Hannah and Peter, a couple whose marriage is on the edge of dissolution. Peter made his money in the market before the GFC and got out in time to make a killing. He has purchased a derelict, deconsecrated church from the Church, and intends renovating it.
His wife is against this, but sees no way out. She senses the strangeness of the village, is acutely aware of the villager’s mute hostility. She sees figures on the beach, who quickly vanish.
The village was an old fishing village, but since the war, has lost population as the youngsters have gone to the bigger towns/cities. Now, the village contains a pub, a doctor’s surgery, a post office/newsagency/grocer. The local police are thirty minutes away and the nearest town of any size is an hour away.
The church was designed by an obscure architect from the 1700s, who had peculiar ideas about architecture gleaned from his schooling in the eastern German states (remember, Germany isn’t a nation until the 1870s). The centrepiece is not the altar, but the large organ behind the altar. Part of his philosophy that music brought the audience closer to God, more so that mere worship. Forbidden to play the organ, the architect broke in one night after the consecration, was heard playing the organ, and was never seen again.
Now, we see a bit of history and backstory added, the church gets a little bit of character thrown in and we learn a more about the two main characters, Hannah and Peter (there’s something a little exciting about giving a character a name – they go from a faceless cardboard cutting to someone with a hint of reality).
Now, the story isn’t particularly original, which is fine. I’m no great stylist and have no intention of re-inventing the wheel. I’ve always thought that a short story should be a vehicle for conveying mood and atmosphere and I hope that this one does. How could it not – remote village, on the coast, plenty of crashing waves, rolling fogs and strange goings on in a haunted church. I’m practically rubbing my hands with glee.
So, over the course of however long it takes to write and edit it into its final form, I intend blogging once a day to advise its progress.
Wish me luck!