You might think that novel writing was a safe and introverted activity. But because you are left to revel in the dingy recesses of you own mind, the daily pursuit of plots and story lines can make you thoughtless, depressed, obsessed, paranoid, and sometimes, scared witless.
You have to imagine it to write it. You have to create a scene or conversation in your head, remember it for long enough to describe it with your fingertips tapping on a plastic keyboard and then check it makes sense by staring at blue-glowing screen, often at the loneliest times of day.
And when you aren’t actively typing or editing, the mind continues to work. The reassuring clunk of a closing car door, or bees humming on the honeysuckle, perhaps your child screaming “he spat at me” or the bonkers contrast in mood before and after sex. All these precious moments cannot be lost (like tears in rain); they must be collected and collated, morphed and merged, formed and edited. The mind endlessly churns to make characters or scenes believable and rich with specific detail.
So when you read that, “The females [blowfly] will lay their eggs on the body, especially around the natural orifices such as the nose, eyes, ears, anus, penis and vagina,” it’s like projecting a mini horror film directly onto your neurons, and they strive to make connections with the current work in progress. It is an attempt to complete a giant, endless jigsaw: Oh, here’s a good piece I think that will fit in chapter 2, when Hendrix inspects the forensic enclosure.
And it’s not something that can be turned on or off just because of the inconveniences of real life. No. My children want attention, but I’m trying to rearrange an omen to the right place in the book. The last thing I want is to fix a Minecraft server error, or help defeat an end of level boss.
And when “…the cadaver is swollen by gas produced internally, and is accompanied by odour of decaying flesh,” pops into your head while at dinner with friends, it’s difficult not to blurt out where you think the reference is going to fit.
But for me at least, the dark side is always there. Generation has an artery of horror running through it and of course the book has themes of forensics, genetics and decomposition that are explored in depth.
The research, and subsequent churning, gave me nightmares of the sort an adult rarely experiences, and it didn’t help that, given my wife sometimes works on call, I was researching into the small hours when there really are things that go bump in the night.
At this time, when the house is dark and the only company is the orange shine of the distant city, decay lurks in every corner, “… flesh turns to cream cheese and the exposed body parts turn black.”
My mind does not rest just because it is supposed to. It works to fill gaps in dialogue and add twists to story lines. And it should not be constrained. Where it goes, so goes my mood, my attention and sometimes my sleep.
Your brain is both your best friend and your worst enemy.
But who’d live without it?