Tony Earnshaw: From fact to fiction – discovering the joys of creative writing

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It is perhaps only in attempting to do something that we recognise the complexities involved.

I think back to the classic years of The Generation Game and that wonderful moment when a hapless husband had to tackle casting a pot or decorating a cake. A national audience would laugh at his ineptitude, glad to be sitting on the sofa, not in the firing line and in the firing line.

I’m not a traditionally practical chap. I can’t lay bricks, hang a door, fix the car. I leave that to the professionals or to those remarkable DIY wizards who, as the saying goes, can turn their hand to anything.

As a lover of film I’ve always been fascinated by the mechanics of the job. The mechanics of acting, of directing, of scripting. How the end result is arrived at. I spend my working life reviewing movies and I’m still happily surprised – and full of admiration – at those films that provoke a sense of wonder.

It was the mechanics that put me off attempting to write fiction. Oh, I scribbled a few tales when I was much younger but they were never destined for others’ eyes. Mainly they were poor copies of better writers’ work – faintly original ideas heavily inspired by the big boys.

As a teenager I read horror novels. From the UK, James Herbert. From the US, Stephen King and his alter ego, Richard Bachman. As my tastes evolved I devoured Poe, Hawthorne and Le Fanu, Nigel Kneale, Rod Serling and Richard Matheson. I penned my attempts under various noms de plume. I have to say they weren’t very good. And those noms are all long retired.

It was Stephen King in an introduction to one of his short story anthologies who once related how people were always amazed when they found out he was a writer.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” they would respond. King had to restrain himself from being rude, from replying, “I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.” Instead he put his frustration into his introduction. “If you want to write, write,” he wrote.

A year ago I had the idea for a short story – an excursion into the macabre. During a quiet afternoon when the house was empty I made an attempt to write it down. Given that writing is what I do – 29 years, man and boy – it didn’t come easily. But, then, I tend to focus on fact, not fiction. It’s entirely different to the day job.

But I finished it. What’s more I submitted it to a specialist in the genre and it was accepted. Thus, aged fortysomething, I find myself cocooned in almost childlike excitement at the prospect of seeing it in print.

Madame Muse has visited several times since. We’ve spoken at length and she’s advised that anything is possible if one uses the right tools for the job. Old dog, new tricks and all that.

So now I’m telling stories. While I’m still young(ish). And before I forget.