How I Came To Do This

Reading & Writing


My father once told me ‘We are a nation of creators. What we fail to do is raise enough money to develop and distribute our creations. The Americans do that part brilliantly. They’re very clever at buying talent. They succeed by taking ideas to people.’ It stuck with me when I read about the histories of science and the arts, and came to realise that our greatest strength as a nation is the ability to think very freely.

I only came to realise just how different our thought processes are when I started spending time in other countries. We follow the Nordic nations in that we’re conversationally non-linear, with a love of tangled, complex sentences and strange lateral ideas. But this also makes us unruly and undisciplined. It’s hard to think about what makes each nation so different without drifting into preconceived racist attitudes, yet they’re those differences are there and recur again and again, no matter how much we come to deny them.


The reason for thinking this? I’ve another new novel, now finished, entitled ‘The Foot On The Crown’ – so I’ve been reading histories of Europe. And what comes over in my reading loud and clear is that the peoples of Germany and Spain, say, are radically different from one another – the former disciplined, private, individualistic, the latter more far community-driven – that it’s astounding that Europe, which occupies such a small area compared to say, Africa, can harbour so many cultures at variance to one another.

When I embarked on the novel (in secret, I realise now – perhaps I had a fear that it wouldn’t work) I didn’t know what it was actually about until I reached the final chapters and everything crystallised. I know this defies everything people are taught about how to write, but it works for me.

The only person who knew about it was the artist Keith Page, who immediately understood what I was about and sent me – entirely unwarranted – a dozen sketches for the main characters.

One problem was escaping the long shadow of ‘Game of Thrones’, which is funny because I had first conceived the idea long before ever becoming aware of George RR Martin’s epic. But once you’ve seen seven seasons (and although I’m a great admirer of Martin’s earlier writing – his ‘Fevre Dream’ is a brilliant novel – I think GoT works better on the screen than the page) it’s very hard to get the style of dialogue out of your head, and certain words become taboo. Like ‘throne’. Because my book started out as ‘The Foot on the Throne’, which you simply can’t have now, even though it’s a very different sort of tale.

So this finished epic-in-reverse is today going out to a publisher, just to be read by an expert in what for a better term we’ll have to call Fantasy. It does seem a bit mad to put so much work into a project – it’s finished to such a high degree that there is really nothing more to do to it – without a guarantee that anyone will ever see it.

I’ll keep you informed about its progress. I love it, and I hope you will to.

8 comments on “How I Came To Do This”

  1. Bill says:

    I read somewhere that historians know comparatively more about the first plague epidemic in England than the similar event in other countries because the English wrote more about it, than other peoples. The desire to observe, know and record amasses a greater store of knowledge, leading to more elaborate discourse. Of course, illiterates can possess great verbal skills: Robert Hughes, in his Fatal Shore, quoted courtroom testimony of those facing transportation; these people were frequently the down-trodden, who might be dismissed as proletarian, had that term then existed; presumably, these words were recorded in shorthand; these expressions were marvels of eloquence. The love of the pen is borne from the love of the tongue. It was the distinctive regard for words spoken and written that fired the American Revolution.

    Analysis of records from 1348 and 1349 reveals another interesting national trait: Despite hideous suffering, great adaptive strategies were deployed, lessening the wholesale disruption of society: You carried on. Stayed calm and were English!

    And how’s the above for a tangent?

  2. Helen Martin says:

    If the characters are like Mr. Page’s drawings the book should be great. If we can have the drawings, too, I’ll bet you could subscribe the publishing costs. I would invest. Bring it on!

    (Pretty good tangent there, Bill.)

  3. Ian Mason says:

    When I saw that first illustration the immediate impression I had was that it had come from the pencil of Mervyn Peake. I hope that doesn’t set the literary bar too high for you.

    As to a window through which to assess the creative and intellectual nature of different nationalities without falling into racial caricatures, tricky. Perhaps the history of science, mathematics and engineering offers the levellest playing field on which to judge them? The objectivity of the fields might help in removing some bias? This is just an isolated thought, and I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t fully thought out.

  4. Steveb says:

    When I was a lad I worked at ICL with people who had created Atlas, the worlds first operating system. They sold the ideas to IBM…

  5. admin says:

    I love this tangent. Inmates of Bedlam were often very sanguine about their plight; you can read their stories in their own words at the hospital and at the LMA.

    I love the idea that in ‘Hamilton’ the eloquent are the succinct rappers, while the English are verbose dictionary-bothereres.

  6. Jo W says:

    Looks like you may have another winner there,Chris. I love those sketches from Keith Page,especially the wine jug and I think I can see a resemblance to your friend,who was your inspiration for Mr.Merry? 😉

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    Hope it does get published, I look forward to seeing it.


  8. keith page says:

    Well, that was quite an honour to be compared to Mervyn Peake!

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