The Ideas That Didn’t Make It

Reading & Writing

For every plot I come up with that makes it into a book, there are twenty that don’t make the cut. Because I’ve paced technology throughout my career, I’ve changed systems with each new technological development and have no hard copies or online files from the past, so I’ve not been able to save these ideas, although I can remember a lot of them.

Perhaps they shouldn’t be remembered. The time slot for many has closed and certain ideas are no longer fashionable. The first novel I wrote was a WWI comedy called ‘Letters From Home’. It was based on some scripts I produced for a BBC radio series, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it so I kept a single hard copy (which I feel sure I still have somewhere). I also kept a copy of a second, much longer novel, but when I reread it last year I found it so awful that I threw the only remaining version away. Sometimes you really do have to do that.

My ‘difficult second novel’ was not going to be ‘Rune’ but a supernatural drama that I ditched for reasons I can no longer remember. I cannibalised parts of it for the novel ‘Red Bride’, which flopped horribly. At that time publishing was in a bad way, but a few brave souls were willing to risk taking on my work, which is always far from a sure bet.

In the Bryant & May series there was going to be one book called ‘Bryant & May and the Green Man’, centering on the legend of the mythological rural giant who protects England. The story was located in Exeter and Gloucester for the cathedral and forests. The novel was about a third finished when I realised that it would always be too fantastical for mystery readers, so I reluctantly abandoned it. 

Similarly, I halted the novel ‘Lookalike’, with its eerie doppelgänger theme, after a host of films and novels came out more or less at the same time with exactly the same set-up, although perhaps my outcome was different to theirs. The same problem remained, though. The solution to the mystery was hard to swallow no matter how carefully I constructed it. Even my agent didn’t buy the idea, although he admitted I would have probably found a way to make it work. But by this time I had lost interest and moved on, so it stays tucked into my online notes.

‘Crazy Lady’ is a story I may go back to, a novel covering the life of a hopelessly optimistic woman whose faith in human nature gets her through some terrible times. I back-burnered it because it’s not a very ‘me’ project and I feared I would lose readership. We think about these things, you know.

I keep a file of plots, sentences, individual words I want to use – and a few jokes. In the next Bryant & May novel, ‘The Lonely Hour’, Arthur gets to tell his first proper joke – and of course messes it up. It’s an incident I wrote down verbatim at the time, and would have made an early novel if I’d found a place for it. Several sections were removed from ‘The Lonely Hour’ for reasons of pacing, but they’ll resurface in other books.

It’s frustrating for completists to know that there are items which can never be collected, but I’m planning to remedy that with the Complete Short Stories, a long-term project that involves tracking down all of my stories and putting them into one (or possibly two) large volumes. They’re being retyped as we speak, but it could take a while…

22 comments on “The Ideas That Didn’t Make It”

  1. Jan says:

    Chris as I understand it the Green Man is not a giant figure – although I would stand correcting on this. He’s a much misunderstood figure the Green man he’s generally interpreted as being a Pagan figure who resurfaces into pre and post medieval churches through the work of a mischievous masons and wood carvers having a bit of a laff and asserting older Pagan ideas.

    Some Lady some thing or other labelled such carvings+ roof bosses the carvings of the Green man in the 1930s.

    But theres a story from the Old Testament about I think its some very early biblical figure could EVEN be Adam (hubby of Eve) when he was ill and dying he sends his lad to market to buy some plant oil which will save him. The lad comes back with seeds, not oil and cos the Old boy is in so much pain he eats these seeds causing the Extrusions to grow from his mouth, eyes nose and cheeks it’s the seeds growing inside his dying body. So really it’s not. A pagan motif at all. Although the secondary pagan interpretation is always bubbling away in the background. A second spin on a religious story.

    In fact there’s a specific type of green man from Denmark (who is a dead ringer for Little Weed )who only has extrusions
    emerging from his mouth. Down to some biblical quite in the Northern European bible re “truth being like a grapevine issuing from the mouth of man” So you takes your pick ‘re your interpretations here religious or Pagan.

    The real Pagan green men like the “Burry man” the Scots figurehead he is more like a walking hedge. Covered in burrs. In some Scots town some poor soul gets dressed up in this outfit of thorns and burrs and parades round the town everyone giving him whisky. To dull the pain probably. To me he’s a proper green man.

    The rest well more a,matter of interpretation.

    Very interesting though 88green men in Exeter cathedral about 20 in Winchester Cathedral. He’s present in countless early churches + the Victorians revived him. An almost identical figure in secular dwellings. In furniture fireplaces garden walls.

  2. Brooke says:

    Complete short stories…promises promises

  3. Daniel says:

    ‘Bryant & May and the Green Man’ sounds irresistible, and if you ever decide to finish it, I can guarantee that you’d sell at least one copy – though I realise that that isn’t much of an incentive. I hope that you haven’t thrown away what you wrote.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    There are quite a number of versions of the Green Man and they turn up in various books including Masefield’s Magic Box I think, but definitely in The Dark is Rising series. I think part of it is people in a number of locations having similar ideas, similar but not identical. I bought T-shirts with York’s version on them and gave one to my gardening daughter-in-law. I always plump for the most mystical versions.

  5. admin says:

    Green Man celebrations returned from the grave of the 1950s, when so many traditions were abandoned, and seem to be held at many rural sites once again. The problem is that I like to highlight little known peculiarities and this one may be just too popular now.
    He has to be Pagan because he venerates nature and represents the Tree of Life, a sort of Ydragsil figure.

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    I am particularly interested in ‘The Green Man’. Who is seen as a motif on modern buildings as with medieval churches and cathedrals. He is seen either with foliage emerging from his mouth or seen peering out in an intense way. One fine example is in the Norwich Cathedral cloisters; a bosse of a man peering out unbearded with piercing eyes. He is a symbol of death and rebirth . No suprise he would be there in religious places. I have many books about ‘The Green Man ‘.

  7. Denise Treadwell says:

    Bryant and May rebirth irresistible!

  8. Matt says:

    I would be interested in the B&M Green Man story too.

    When you say Complete short stories do you mean just the unpublished? Or will we have to go on a muscle building program to be able to lift a book bigger than those old fashioned family bibles. Maybe there are that many unpublished stories anyway, who knows? Whatever the number It will make interesting reading I’m sure.

  9. DebbyS says:

    Or how about “Bryant and May and the Woodwose”? We have our own variant on the Green Man here in Suffolk. (It’s just possible they have a few woodwoses in Norfolk too, but we’ll ignore that).

  10. Ken Mann says:

    I can’t help thinking that if Bryant and May had gone to Somer Isle instead of Edward Woodward they would have worked out what was going on much more quickly.

  11. Wulfruna says:

    What Daniel said.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Looked up the woodwose and discovered it’s another name for our sasquatch or the Himalayan yeti. The wildman found in medieval art. Some interesting speculation as to where the ideas/sightings originated.

  13. Jan says:

    Now yer WOODWOSES are yer proper green men. Wild men beyond humanity in a very real sense. These church carvings which I think are pale copies of the real thing they mix up religious and pagan traditions but there’s a real Pagan essence of something remembered beyond them.

    If you can look on You Tube at the Scots Burryman walk he looks bit like the pic at the top of this thread. Makes you scratch your head and wonder about Christ’s Crown of Thorns which we were taught in skool was a torture taunt by Roman soldiers but could reference some other tradition entirely.

    I write a lot on various FB groups ‘re Earth Mysteries and old traditions plus leys, holy wells and the like. One of the topics that ties into the Green man tradition is the memory or idea which existed well beyond Tudor times – in fact in a watered down sort of fashion up to about WW2 . There’s a sort of idea that there were spirits in and of the earth still kicking about who humanity needed to protect itself from. Spirits also help humanity and should be respected.

    This respect takes various forms in some ways it’s just a little tribute. Think of throwing coins into a wishing well. This begins as earlier generations leaving a payment/tribute to the water spirits who are female spirits generally ( Dryads were they called? I really can’t remember)
    The notion of throwing coins into a wishing well for luck spins on from that idea of paying a female water spirit a spirit of place for guarding a well. Protecting the source of pure water. Other spirits of place are rewarded in different ways.

    Similarly think of old John Barleycorn the last neck of corn from The harvest. He’s venerated. Part of his seed is kept safe to go back into the earth on Plough Sunday. (Itself a Christianised fire festival)

    Some of this last corn also go’s into the harvest loaf. Did you know that until the 1960s each English county had it’s own specific design of harvest loaf (the patterns woven onto the bread ) and also their own specific corn dolly patterns?

    Remnants of something very old this.

    Also there’s this idea of the North and of witches being repelled by iron. Now just guesswork on my part but I think that here there’s some strand of (t)race memory concerning modern humanity leaving Neanderthal humanity behind.

    Think of Arthur and the sword in the stone. Blacksmiths were really powerful figures, men who changed the world. That pulling the sword out of the stone is taking off the cast from a newly made sword. Which would look just like removing a glowing sword from a stone to a layman.

    Now your Neanderthal couldn’t get the hang of this blacksmithing lark at all so this adds into them becoming a secondary branch of humanity. Eventually to be sidelined cast out of the mainstream to the woods. This idea that witches are repelled by iron is I reckon a half memory a sort of glimpse that refers to these lesser older folk been unable work with iron.

    Only me having a moment – probably wrong – just a theory. But till this day when very old cottages are renovated in Dorset out from chimneys and N walls come iron objects embedded in the fabric of the building. To protect from the outsiders I wonder from the Old folks living in the wood?

    Off topic but so interesting that all this Neanderthal DNA still within us. These lads may have gone the way of the dinosaurs but not b4 a great deal of fun was had by all.

    Sasquatch, Yeti – Neanderthals? Who knows?

  14. Jan says:

    Sorry went off on one there!!

    Sir Gawain’s buddy THE GREEN KNIGHT has gotta be some form of WOODWOSE.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Love it when you go “off on one”, Jan. That was wonderful speculation and why not? There is memory that trickles down through time. Habits, sayings, all sorts of bits and pieces that stick in the back of our minds and colour our thoughts and actions could well come from those original people.

  16. Jan says:

    Cheers Helen

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Of course, here in Suffolk, we also have the tale of the ‘Green Children’ of Woolpit. A story dating back the best part of a thousand years, of two small children discovered in fields near the village. A girl and boy, both with green skin, who spoke an unintelligible language, and who would only eat beans. The boy sickened and died, but the girl lived on, eventually learning to speak the local language. She said that she and her brother had come from a land beyond the horizon where the sky was green. They had been walking, and suddenly found themselves where the sky was blue, and could not find a way home. As she aged, the green tinge to her skin vanished. It is said that she married a boy from the village, and started a family. It’s a slightly creepy story, which suggests to one the ideas of parallel universes, and weak spots between ‘Now’ and ‘Now’.

  18. Sarah Griffin says:

    Just come back from The Greenman festival, so yes he pretty much in the public conscious and used a a figure head for lots of beliefs and movements. So in some ways the work has been done for you for recognition but if you can find a new angle then you’ve got a winner.

  19. Diane Englot says:

    I want to read the Green Man!! What’s wrong with a little “fantastical?” Is there no way to resurrect it?

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Kingsley Amis wrote a tremendously dark novel entitled ‘The Green Man’, I seem to remember.

  21. Ian Luck says:

    I’ve just finished a superbly odd book, by Andrew Caldicott, entitled ‘Rotherweird’. It concerns a small self-governing, walled enclave, somewhere in England, where nobody is allowed, by a statute of Elizabeth the First, to investigate it’s past. History lessons taught there now, go no further back than 1800. Anyway, towards the end, the Green Man makes an appearance. It’s a great, complicated, ‘Gormenghast-y’ read, which took me this afternoon to devour. And why not? It fitted well after yesterday’s enjoyable chug through Kim Newman’s short story collection, ‘The Man From The Diogenes Club’. Another worthwhile afternoon’s work. And definitely recommended, too.

  22. Wayne Mook says:

    I’ve both those books on my virtual pile, there was a TV version of Amis’s The Green Man (it’s also the name of the pub as well.), it’s very Jamesian in feel, so we’re back to Rune.

    My favourite Green Man though stars Alistair Sim. Again it’s a pub/Inn. Guess what the name of the pub in The Wicker Man is?

    Quite a bit of the Green Man legend gets mixed up with Herne the Hunter and Wild Hunt, which gets you to Winsor.

    Of course there is a print of May Day Jack (looks more like a mobile Christmas tree.) from the C18th chimney sweep parade in London.

    I’d be interested in reading a Green Man peculiar case.

    Wayne.

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