Today I’m welcoming Paul Marriner to my website, talking about WHY he writes (as opposed to how, where or what genre he writes in… Thanks for joining us, Paul.
When I tell people I write the most common question is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ not, ‘Why?’ Perhaps they assume it’s for the glory and the money – ha ha. So when I asked myself the question I went back to the beginning.
From an early age I read avidly. Our local library was stuffed with books where I found adventure, excitement, characters I could relate to and wanted to meet, trivia and facts (perhaps a boy thing?) and a place where my imagination could be in jeopardy while I was still in my bedroom. In short, entertainment and education – though many might say much of what I learned has been most useful in pub quizzes and crosswords. And the great news was that as I grew, I found books for each age, including, let’s be honest, a few ‘unsavoury’ tales that were best hidden from my parents (The Mack Bolan Mafia revenge series? Yes, really). Interestingly, I never thought of reading as a form of escapism. I had a busy, active childhood and teenage years and books were not a refuge in any sense, but great entertainment in a world with few tv channels and no internet.
By the middle of my teenage years I had perfected the art of immersing myself in books like ‘The Godfather’, ‘Catch22’, anything by Alastair Maclean or Arthur Hailey, and, dare I say it, ‘Chopper’ and ‘The Run’ (you may need to look up those last two). And I couldn’t understand how not everyone found it so easy to ‘jump’ into a book. I should say that at this stage, though I enjoyed writing stories for my English classes, I had little interest in the academic side of learning why the traditional greats of fiction (eg. Dickens, Austen, Hardy) were so lauded. In my later teenage years I began to think about how wonderful it must be to be able to write stories that pulled the reader in, engaged them and, in some way, educated – even if still in terms of ‘boyish’ facts, like where to get a sniper’s rifle made (‘Day Of The Jackal’). Then my grandmother gave me a copy of ‘Boys And Girls Together’ by William Goldman (I remember to this day her telling me it was a little ‘racy’ for her) and I began to think a little about how stories are structured and characters developed.
I read more of Joseph Heller and William Goldman’s work and started on John Irving. And not only was I being entertained and reading ingenious ways of using the English (American?) language, I was introduced to different-thinking characters that I’d never meet in real life. I was also being subtly asked to think about new ideas (at least, new to me) regarding politics, gender, race, love, hate, life and death. And more and more I was asking myself, ‘What would I have done?’ in response to the conflicts (be they moral or physical) being fought by my favourite protagonists – not all of which were heroes. It was probably about this time I read ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ for the first, but not the last, time. I also read some Sci-fi (‘Dune’ etc.), fantasy (‘Lord Of The Rings’, the Thomas Covenant series), thrillers and crime novels and enjoyed them immensely for the interesting ideas and imagination they brought. They, too, raised important questions but I often struggled to place myself into the story. In case it’s of interest, I also read books by the likes of Tom Sharpe and George MacDonald Fraser both of whom were hugely talented story tellers with a skill for pacey narratives and humour.
I had become a big fan of William Goldman and his ability to write great stories in any genre, not to mention screen plays, and I started to wonder about what it took to be not just a story teller but a writer. In particular a quote from Goldman struck a chord with me (though I don’t think his was the original quote). It went something like, ‘Believe you have secrets to tell.’ From this I inferred that it was ok to have some confidence that you ‘knew’ or ‘saw’ something many others didn’t and finding a way to tell them, in a story, was a worthwhile pursuit.
So I tried to write some stories and it was very, very difficult. By now life, family, work, sport and music was keeping me busy, though I kept reading. All the time I harboured an aspiration to write something that would entertain (that word yet again), might hold up a mirror to the reader, reveal (perceived) secrets and nudge them to ask questions of themselves and others. That was what I’d found in my favourite books and to do all that within a story of my own creation would be an achievement.
Whether I failed or succeeded it would have to be writing the stories I wanted to, in my own style, whatever that might turn out to be… Which is what I’m doing, though it’s not always easy to type with fingers crossed that there’s an audience out there somewhere that will enjoy the engagement, look into the mirror I’m trying to hold up and think about some questions perhaps they hadn’t considered before. Sometimes I write a piece which edges close to achieving those aims (in my view) and occasionally the prose is interesting, perhaps even ‘alive’, in some sense. And on those rare occasions the satisfaction makes the hard work, knock-backs and self-doubt worthwhile – and, boiling it right down, that’s really why I write, for those rare moments.
I should add I also had some small hope that I could write stories which encouraged me to explore and understand some of my own history, background and motivations. To an extent this has been the case but I feel I’m still not clear in my own mind about the success, or otherwise, of that, so perhaps it’s a topic for another time. It may turn out this is the best reason of all for me to write, but it’s early days yet…
I’d like to finish with a big thank you to Tracey for giving me a reason to take a step back and think through some stuff I hadn’t properly considered before.