It’s the first thing that people ask me: where do I get my creative ideas from? What inspires me? How do you turn those ideas into a book? I imagine that it is the eternal question for all authors, and will change from writer to writer; and even day to day.
Ideas aren’t fixed points. They aren’t events that or facts. They are fluid, and sometimes trickle away to nothing. Many authors are inspired by their surroundings, their childhood or they may be intrigued by the weird and wonderful characters they have stumbled upon throughout their lives. Sometimes they just need a calm, remote cabin and a peaceful loch; a roaring storm or a fantastical sunset on a snow topped mountain. Ideas can come from anywhere, and sometimes we lose them in the night, or they die their own little death when we have no idea what to do with them. Ideas are easy: they are like flowers in a meadow, sand along a shore. Stories are the hard part.
Structuring Creative Thought
From my own personal experience, crafting my ideas into a tenable story has been somewhat of a journey. During my mad year of writing 365 stories, I would be grasping at anything for a plot. On dry days, I’d be staring around my room looking for triggers on which to start my story. When it came to actually sitting down to write The Dark Places Trilogy, I was flooded with so many ideas. And that was the problem: you can’t have a book that says it all.
In the early stages of drafting The Dark Places Trilogy I imagined it as one book. In one of the most immature imaginings of the trilogy, Jack (though back then that wasn’t his name) and Alex have the conversation they have at the end of Blackout Obscura in the second chapter. There is no build up. There is no backstory. They head off together, Jack gets in the same trouble with a certain Home Secretary as he does in The Cult of The Enemy in chapter four, by chapter six they are starting the revolution and it’s all done and dusted by chapter ten. Fairly short, fairly light on character development.
The more I thought about the story, the more I realised that I had something else that I wanted to say. In the beginning I may have wanted to tell a tale of a quick revolution, but as I grew older (and hopefully wiser), I knew that I wasn’t happy with such a simple tale. The adventure that Jack would experience was no longer the sole reason I was writing this book.
I had always found other dystopian fiction books to be lacking in the one part that I thought was crucial to any of the societies they were trying to fight against. Each and every regime was so blindingly obviously evil and it took less than a few minutes of screentime or a chapter for the protagonist to have his mind changed, if it wasn’t already rebellion against convention. It struck me as odd and somewhat unnatural – if such a society did exist in reality then it would need to be confusing, complicated; Nazi Germany survived as long as it did because they staggered in the violence, the hatred, they manipulated their people to the point where they weren’t sure what was right or wrong, and if they did then they had no one to trust their opinions with. Evil isn’t subtle, and in this age it would be hard to blatantly rise to power on that particular soap box. You need to be tactful, you need to manipulate, and above all confuse: because if the citizens are too busy figuring out what the hell they are meant to be believing, you can get on with whatever plan you want.
This was when The Dark Places Trilogy was truly born. I knew that I needed to articulate this particular philosophy. One of my passions has always been Stalinist Russia and I knew that I could draw parallels with Socialist Realism and the regime during the 1930s whilst also creating my own unique story. The more I understood what it was that I wanted to say, the more I was flooded with my own ideas and at some point I knew that the story was becoming too large for one book. That was when I decided to split the book into three, with each tackling an aspect of the larger story that I wanted to tell.
Blackout Obscura deals with the inception of an autocratic regime. The blackout of information, the subtle and continuous terror felt but never explicitly said. The building of a government that invades privacy and instills fears all in the name of protection. Humanity can excuse a lot of behaviour if the alternative is facing up to reality. “My husband cheated on me, but it didn’t mean anything because he was drunk.” or “He hit me once, but he was really apologetic.” There is room to expand these metaphors to something altogether more sinister. “The government can read my internet history, but it’s okay if they catch terrorists.” In the shining utopian dream these ends may very well justify the means, but unless my eyes deceive me, we are living in a capitalist world fueled by money, greed and hate. Having access to your internet history isn’t inherently evil: it’s who has access to it that we need to worry about it. So the current government might not care about your obsession with kinky porn, but there is no guarantee of what a future regime may use that knowledge for. And that’s the point. That’s the whole point. We can say it doesn’t matter and to a degree it doesn’t. Information is only dangerous when it’s used; like nuclear weapons or a knife. Essentially Blackout Obscura explored at what point humanity could be pushed to the point where it had to accept things were not as they seemed.
The Cult of The Enemy took on the mantle of identifying the idea of opposition. Right now we live in a very divided society and it seems the more we discuss the politics of the day, the more polarised we seem from those who would disagree with us. During Brexit, us remainers find it quite easy to identify those that voted to leave as uneducated racists and vice versa they would perceive us as elitist scum. Maybe we are both right, but the more we look at each other it seems the less common ground we find. When it comes to terrorism, we are constantly told that these attackers are enemies of the people; and they are told that we are enemies to them. But what does either actually mean? It seems we are indoctrinated to hate and yet we are hated ourselves. I knew I wanted The Cult of The Enemy to take on this idea – to at first highlight the differences between The Resistance and the rest of the country, both of whom would classify each other as The Enemy, and then slowly dissect the philosophy of each: ultimately leaving the reader realising that The Resistance don’t quite know what they want and the rest of the country don’t quite realise what they have become.
Whilst I am keeping the plot details of The Glass House very secret until publication, I can tell you that I knew from the very start what I wanted to do with the final installment of The Dark Places Trilogy. The moment of reveal: when everything is exposed. What happens? After Germany lost the war, the people were treated as spoils of war; after the French revolution, the aristocracy couldn’t be trusted. When every horrific detail is revealed, and everyone is guilty in somewhat: how do you even begin to rebuild?
Once I broke down my ideas for The Dark Places Trilogy into these subset categories, I knew that I would be able to explore my themes with more detail and dedication, as well as being able to develop my characters in such a way that they were constantly challenged and caught up by the true emotions of the moment; the death, the regret, the hurt and the pain that any revolutionist must experience.
Ideas to Page
To say that breaking down my ideas into the three books solved all my problems would be a stretch of the imagination. Whilst it gave me the scope to explore my ideas further, it also provided many challenges in of itself. The more opportunity for ideas, the more ideas you need to come up with. Whilst I already had many, I knew that not all of them could – or even should – be used. Months of note taking and scribbling down plotlines later, I had whittled down the ideas I had into a skeleton of a story. I knew that I had to put my character in certain positions throughout the story so that he could experience a fragment of this tortured society at such a steady increment it could appear normal. From there I could flesh our the hows and the whys and with so much current affairs to inspire me… this was probably one of the easiest parts to writing The Dark Places Trilogy.
It strikes me that I should write something about Donald Trump and how the inevitable fallout of his presidency could link to my fictional dystopian world, but without giving too much away… there is a parallel with Trump’s hypocrisy and hatred-driven policies with the government in The Dark Places Trilogy and certainly there is a reason for this in my book. I just hope that Trump and Co aren’t using these tactics for a similar goal.