Monday, November 07, 2005

Give. Me. A. Break!

So here’s why I want to put my head in the oven, although I can see the funny side.

I had this dream in 2001 about a conscientious objector, looking for sanctuary in the English countryside during WW1. Waking up, I thought that married with some of my preoccupations of the time, such as shamanism and evolutionary psychiatry, it would make a decent novel.

I suppose I should have been suspicious of the fact that this was based on a dream, but ideas have to come from somewhere, yes?

I’ve already told you why that novel never happened, and that when, having taken a look at Azureus and noticing how many shows I was downloading, I decided to try and pour what was left of my writing energy into television, I dusted off the idea. That would have been around May 2004.

I took a look at what I had, and it wasn’t much - this pacifist dude escapes from a work camp, develops strange abilities, teams up with a troubled girl to raise Lyonesse and heal the European psyche.

Well, who was this guy? Why didn’t he want to fight? Why did he need to escape and who was trying to get him back? Slowly, very slowly, and with numerous false starts and dead ends, I decided that Princetown Work Centre was a test-bed for government aggression trials to create the ultimate, compassion-free soldier. The trials were being run by Lord Edmund Vyvyan, who had his own dark purposes - his lineage stretched back to the time of the mythic celts. The war is driving Europe insane, and the constant blood-letting is beginning to awaken the powers Vyvyan’s family once served. Our hero Tristan discovers Vyvyan’s plans, becomes an unwilling experimental subject, but reacts in an unforeseen manner: the drug that is being fed to prisoners sends him on a wild trip, granting him supernatural abilities.

And then we have Evey. A young girl in the fishing village of Portwick; her father drowned years ago and her brother’s at war - she’s a girl in some psychic distress who becomes a magnet for both Tristan’s and Vyvyan’s attentions.

But I couldn’t make these characters’ stories gel. They all seemed to be living in different shows. I did a quick brainstorm and came up with the following:

What if Vyvyan’s great house was one of the many stately homes made into hospitals for the duration of the war? What if we say Tristan is not a conscientious objector, but a Lieutenant suffering from war neurosis, and Evey a nurse? Presto, three hitherto disparate elements now unified. The military experiments and rise of dark gods could remain as they were, but now I could get right to the heart of the story a lot sooner, without having to lay so much pipe.

What had started out as a Robert Holdstock/Robin of Sherwood tonal hybrid had, quite naturally I thought, evolved into more of a Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker-era gothic Doctor Who-style story.

I'd have to change the title.

But first I thought I’d better find out a bit more about these hospitals. Presumably they’d have doctors, nurses, an officer in charge and a company of guards. To be sure, I whacked "WW1 psychiatric hospital staff" into Google, and got two enlightening hits.

The first is probably one of the most chilling photographs I’ve ever seen:

The second was one of the most unsettling coincidences yet to occur in my young life. So, I've developed what could be a gothic Doctor Who story, have I? Well, here's MY BLOODY IDEA AS THE SYNOPSIS FOR AN ACTUAL, 1999, DOCTOR WHO NOVEL. This shit ain’t right. I’ve never read the book, I’ve never heard of the author. Until last year I’d forgotten Who even existed. If I was “influenced” by anything it was Dane’s story and his relationship with Sir Miles in The Invisibles. And yet, here's this, as if something's telling me to try harder - as if this wasn't hard enough already!

Well, you’ve got to laugh, right?

Category: Writing


  1. Clever. See how much of a natural storyteller you are? Instead of writing one long post about your problems with an idea and how you addressed them, you instead wrote two posts, creating an act break in the middle and leaving the reader in some suspense about whether you were going to continue writing at all.

    As for finding a similar premise already published through Google, you are right to keep your sense of humor. Now just keep on writing. Your idea will distinguish itself as you go along.

    That image is a visual knockout. It looks like a poster photoshopped for some gothic horror movie, but it's real. And that sky--again easily could have been photoshopped to symbolize the gathering storm of war or some such., but it's all too real.

    Can you give details about the house and woman in the image, when it was taken, etc.?

  2. I wish I knew more about the photo. I found it at a site dedicated to the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

    What really unnerves me, more than the clouds, and the roof's sillhouette, is the long grass. That nurse's legs just seem to fade away. It's terrifying.

  3. Wow. This idea is seriously great.

    Don't get discouraged by that Dr. Who synopsis; it actually sounds nothing like your idea as you've described it. Your main character alone differentiates it. In fact, he seems to me to be the most interesting thing - the shamanic, pacifist aspect is fascinating.

    Don't give up!

    (And that photo does indeed rock.)

  4. No doubt, way eerie picture, weird coincidence and a great idea you got there.

    Not exactly the same thing, but it reminds me of the time I was driving on a highway in Maine late one summer evening. Not many cars around. I started to think "hmm, what would be a cool vanity license plate put on my
    truck." Not sure why I thought this but not sure why I think most of what I do. So I'm rapping off ideas for a vanity plate, like "I ROCK" or whatever and settle on "Be" as my favorite. I liked the simplicity. "Be," simple but expansive.

    About five seconds after that thought floats away to my mental junkyard an old Toyota Camry buzzes past me, with, of course, a license plate that simply reads "Be."

    Life is great huh?