By Francis H Powell—
A writer looks at a blank screen, their mind searches for ideas, of what to write. They tap away, but don’t like what they have written and the delete button clears all they have written, erased forever. Maybe for different writers it’s a different experience. Some maybe keep a notebook and fill it with ideas of storylines, outlines or perhaps even characters. Writers need starting points.
From my point of view I can talk about how I go about writing some of my short stories. How did I start as a writer? I moved to a remote village in Austria. It was not far from Vienna, but a very oppressive and strange environment. I thought I should try writing a book. I launched into it…nothing came of it. I do many creative activities, painting as well as writing music. Writing lay dormant, put to one side. Then later, living in Paris at this point in time, via an advert, I made contact with a man called Alan Clark, who had a literary magazine called “Rat Mort” (dead rat). I submitted four short stories for this magazine, encouraged by Alan. I began to write more and more short stories, and developed a style.
My stories are dark and surreal, so I depend on a supply of dark thoughts flowing through my mind, as well as other sources drawn from real events. What are some of my preoccupations in my stories? Where do my ideas come from?
Some ideas come from nowhere. Once traveling on the Paris metro, a name suddenly came to me…Little Mite…I then thought about, who would possess such a name…concluding it seemed like a young adolescent, rather wicked. The story is about two families: one old aristocracy on the wane, the other nouveau riche. Little Mite’s sister is about to be married, a match made in heaven and beneficial to both families. There is a party on a lawn, all the final details are being made for the wedding. Little Mite entices the groom’s younger brother to her father’s workshop and glues the innocent boy to a coffee table, a work in progress. Not content with this, she goes and picks some stinging nettles and thrashes the boys legs. This idea came from a newspaper about the author and writer Vita Sackville West, who had a similar fate awaiting children who visited the Sackville estate when she was a child. The story gets very dark, at the end when Little Mite decides to play a trick on her family, to try towing back her parent’s good favor. Unfortunately her father mistakes her for a burglar and shoots her with a hunting rifle. This idea came to me after reading a newspaper article about a similar mishap.
I seem to have a bit of a fascination with the death penalty, did something happen to me in a previous life? I find it hard to imagine the feeling a person might have when they know their time on this earth is limited. At some point, the door of their cell is going to open and they are going to be led on their final walk, to this unknown future…nobody really knows what awaits us, following our final breath, of course some surmise some kind of heaven or hell awaits. One of my short stories is called “Duke”. It is a story about a man who has been condemned to death for some unspecified reason, but who seems to be treating his inevitable execution with a great impudence, as if he is on a pleasurable short vacation. Duke is a fake and not really a Duke, he just puts on the airs and graces of a Duke and enjoys the privileges a Duke might enjoy, be it in a squalid prison. He is charming and witty, like Oscar Wilde. He flirts with his captors and it seems he is flirting with death itself.
I came up with the idea for Duke, having seen a newspaper article, that talked about a man who assumed the identity of an aristocrat, but like my Duke, was nothing more than a fraud. Newspapers are a great source of inspiration for me as a writer. Obscure stories, eye catching headlines, tragedy filled lives, fakes, frauds, abominable characters, they are all there.
Television also supplies inspiration. I watched a documentary about the number of fathers who are not bringing up children from their seed, but from another man. The facts are there for all… An academic study from Liverpool John Moores University in the UK has come up with an eye opening discovery which is that 1 in 25 fathers are unknowingly raising another man’s child. The research headed by an eminent professor, looked at data from the UK, the USA and other countries across the globe. In the US, the number of paternity tests have increased from 142,000 in 1991 to 310,490 in 2001. In the UK the estimated number of paternity tests are between 8,900 and 20,000 tests per year. Imagine what a barracks full of young soldiers is like, the temptations and the suspicions flying about. It could be enough to drive any father to the point of insanity, not knowing if he is the real father…This was the basis for my story “Seed”. A woman, whose biological clock is fast ticking away, is married to Captain Spender, a noble military man, but absent husband. Surrounded by virile men, she considers her best chance of getting pregnant, is to have a brief liaison with one of the officers. Everything comes to a head at the regimental baptism.
There are many despicable characters in my book Flight of Destiny…as well as freaks and oddballs…the outsiders of this world. Often their names reflect either physical appearance (for example “Bugeyes” born into an aristocratic family that rejects him due to his over-sized eyes) or their personality (for example Maggot…a circus owner who tries to sell his daughter to pay off his circus’ debt.
My story Bodyparts, is influenced by a film called “The Stepford Wives”. It is set in the future, rich men can have assembled perfect wives. In the future perhaps flight attendants will be types of humanoids, so I thought why not a “wife” for a rich industrialist. The problem arises in this story when the humanoid begins to develop feminist tendencies and her own independent thought. I am making fun of control freak husbands and men who seek easily malleable women as trophies.
Flight of Destiny is full of strange storylines, but then if you glance carefully at newspapers, or even watch the news, you will find that life is full of weird occurrences. So if you are an aspiring writer, facing that blank screen bereft of ideas, take a moment to read a newspaper. Perhaps hidden away, there is an article that could inspire a great novel.
This article is written by Francis H Powell. With a degree in painting and an MA in printmaking, he is an artist, musician, writer, and video maker. He currently lives in France. Find Francis on his blog or on Twitter.