05 Feb Dispatches from a Golden Egger – Part Three
Contribution by Andrew Wright
Exploring the Length, Breadth and Depth of My Story
In September 2013 I was lucky enough to be accepted to have a one to one mentoring session with Imogen Cooper at the Golden Egg Academy. Sitting down with Imogen, my gut-twisting with fear, in the cafe of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank was one of the most terrifying and revelatory moments in my writing career* (see * at end of this post) so far.
The conversation was wonderful, even if adrenalin tied my tongue sometimes and stuck it to the roof of my mouth, whilst at others making me sound like I was fresh out of the dentist. It was wonderful because Imogen, having effectively read my opening thirty pages and decided they just weren’t good enough (she was too polite to put it that bluntly), asked me to tell her about my story idea. Over the next two hours I hardly shut up – ‘a gabbler, me’ – as Imogen asked deeper and deeper questions about the idea that had plagued me for the last five years.
It was amazing. I mean, actually talking about my story … it felt like I was clearing gunk long accumulated and what was utterly incredible was, as it fell out of my mouth, it pretty much made total sense, even the bits I didn’t think I’d quite worked out yet. Then, her intelligent eyes crinkling with a smile, Imogen asked me the absolute killer question: “So, stripping it all back, pushing past the fest and the tar, the pyrotechnics, what’s it actually about? What’s the key theme of your story? What is the message it is sending to the world?”
A hammer-blow question, a knife of a query stabbing down deep into the beating heart of story and lodging fast. And yes, I had the answer, not fully formed yet, but it buzzed and fizzed in my head all the way home and into the next week, and I rapidly booked myself on the BookMapping course Golden Egg were putting on, by lucky happenstance, the very next weekend.
I spent that week thrumming with that question and as the time passed I started to pull those themes out, throwing them down on the page as Imogen had asked me to do. She’d also said another crucial thing, a shocking and utterly counter-intuitive thing as far as I was concerned.
She said, STOP WRITING IT, ANDREW. JUST THINK ABOUT IT. WHAT IS THE THEME?
I mean, STOP writing, how can I be a writer if I stop writing? It was what I’d built myself up to do every day for the last five years, you know, writing every day, getting a word count and then rewriting that word count to death. But, I’m a good boy – well sometimes anyway – and I did what I was told. I stopped writing. It was weird, but I held my nerve and remained stopped. I read more, I resonated with theme ideas for the first novel in Gareth’s adventures and started thinking about the BookMapping process to come. And I did my Golden Egg homework.
I wrote down the themes of Sanctuary’s Loss, the first of Gareth’s adventures. Here they are (unadulterated and not prettified in any way as they fell out of my head in the week after my one to one):
Theme 1 – Gareth’s past is not what it appears SECRETS
Theme 2 – Gareth & Freddy hunted & this hunt’s shaped every aspect of their experience THEY’RE HUNTED
Theme 3 – Gareth’s the hope in the dark, part of a lineage that’ll bring the light of hope (the act of creation, Fest) to its absence, the dark (Tar) TRAGIC CHOICE, HOPE AGAINST DESPAIR, TRAGIC OPTIMISM
Theme 4 – There’s an eternal battle between the creative forces of love and hope and their absence (Fest v Tar) ETERNAL BATTLE
Theme 5 – Gareth’s powers are a blessing and a curse THE BURDEN
Theme 6 – Alongside the ordinary, exists the extraordinary & if we look at the ordinary closely we will see it’s extraordinary too ORDINARY-EXTRAORDINARY AXIS
Theme 7 – Magic is just unexplained science and technology, experience and wisdom banishes superstition NO MAGIC, JUST SCIENCE
And Imogen, in our next one to one the following Sunday, asked: “And if you boil away all them and had to choose just one theme?” Again, a killer question, a nurturing question that challenged me to think yet again … even after having experienced a week when my head had thrummed with thematic ideas like it had never done before. I arrived very quickly at the answer – it had been building, building, building in me (that’s exactly what it felt like) over the last few days. “It’s theme 3, it’s about hope in the dark, our choice to do good in the face of the dark.”
Next time, in praise of the BookMap…
*(Not sure career is a fair word to describe sitting at a desk tapping away from 4:45am most mornings for the last five years scared much of the time, that terror relieved briefly by periods of yes-yes-I-want-to-do-this-for-the-rest-of-my-life elation)