A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

The elves ate my homework…

In answer to this week’s question: Generally speaking, I like deadlines. I’m the sort of person who appreciates a cut-off point; a cattle prod to keep me moving; a finish line in sight.

An end date means I buy my presents prior to Father Christmas dropping down the chimney; I fill in my tax return before the 31st January (just). It even means I get my typing finger out to write the post for this blog.

Yes, on the whole, deadlines whip me into some kind of shape and stop me spending a lifetime making cups of tea and languishing on the sofa with my Mad Men boxset.

And yet for a novel? That’s when deadlines turn nasty (watch it on Channel 5). Forcing a story to come out within a set time can be like grappling a frisky lion cub into a net or catching a slippery fish with your hands. Okay, certainly, some stories arrive in your head almost fully written and it’s just a matter of calculating daily word counts and knocking the beauty off on your keyboard.

But there are, many, many others that skip and prance in your head like cheeky elves demanding you race them round a maze…with tall hedges…and only one exit…and benches where you sit down and completely forget you have an elf to snare.

Err, here’s one that escaped me earlier:

That’s right – elf-driven stories laugh in the face of deadlines, they taunt you over cut-off dates with their elfish manic laughter, before zipping off again. Into the maze. Chase me, chase me!

To stop these elves running off with your story, what you need – like babies who stubbornly refuse to leave the womb – is urgent intervention. By way of inspiration.

Inspiration, for me, is generally to be found within the walls of cinemas and bookshops; art galleries and museums. In coffee shops, for people watching. Yet this is where the journey to the deadline becomes blocked by DEAD GUILT.

Maybe it’s down to a Catholic upbringing, but I can never call work work, unless I’m uncomfortable, cold, exhausted, moaning and generally not having a great time. To be enjoying oneself under the banner of ‘it’s my job’…well that’s just not acceptable. Is it?

Hence I have a habit of remaining chained to my desk, twenty four seven, staring out the same piece of window, at the same grey-sky view. Jabbing and stabbing at the brain matter with a sharp pencil to please come up with the ideas that will take my story where it has to go.

Even when I break free from my self-flagellation, furtively rushing off to story-fill in my favourite places, inevitably I will bump into a stop and chat: ‘Alex, you’re here in this gallery, for your job?’ or ‘Sitting in a cinema? You call that work, Campbell?’

YES, really, I do call it work, I bleat weakly…but no one listens (including myself). Except maybe the elf, but he’s enjoying my humiliation too much to care. Speaking of which, there he goes again, chase me, chase me!


This entry was posted on January 9, 2015 by and tagged , , .

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