Friday, 14 September 2012

The Grease Monkey's Tale - an approach #1

There’s a number of things I keep in mind when writing, but at the forefront of these is an intent to only stick with those stories I get a kick out of working on, and to only write books I’d really like to read myself.  There's a number of other things I could say about the reasons I need to write, how the stories we tell interpret the world we live in, how we connect our present with our past through the stories we tell, and so on, but none of this counts for much if I’m not fully engaged with the characters I’m working with and the stories they’re revealing.
That being said, the stories I write (and like to read) share some common traits.  I enjoy stories where the order of a character’s world is challenged, particularly if the nature of reality is also challenged, and even more so if the significant relationships in that character’s life are tested as a consequence.  There’s nothing new in this, of course, for these elements have been central to storytelling for hundreds of years – it’s just the way the stories are told that changes.  Our stories are filled with dupes and rogues, villains and heroes, victors and victims; usually against a tale of forbidden love or treacherous love, unrequited love or happy-ever-after-love – elements which bring out the best and worst in people.  Even as children, the stories we most frequently tell deal with a quest for happiness in terms of the ideal partner (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty) or deal with maintaining order and justice in a precarious world (Little Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, The Billy Goats Gruff).

For The Grease Monkey’s Tale however, I wanted to throw as much as possible at Nic the mechanic.  He is both innocent dupe and hero, both victor and victim, and experiences almost everything that life (and love) can hurl at someone, particularly in his relationship with Siobhan McConnell.  Rather than have a simple, fairy-tale quest and limited paths to follow, Nic finds himself caught up in life at its messiest.  He experiences how challenging and irrevocable some decisions can be, and how our simplest choices can determine our best or worst fortune.  He has to decide what he will compromise or sacrifice, create or destroy, in order to sustain his relationship with Siobhan.
Through Nic, I wanted to explore different layers of truths, untruths and lies, and how significant stories are in shaping our understanding of the world we live in.  Truth is a fickle creature, but our understanding of it, however limited, arbitrarily shapes the nature of our relationships, the choices we make, the paths we follow, the paths we abandon... the life we live.  The adventure of that story, with all its explosions and pistol shots, romance and mystery, is the adventure I was keen to create and explore in The Grease Monkey’s Tale.

It was while I was redrafting Grease Monkey and asking myself that hardest of questions – What’s this story really about? – that the poem I eventually used as an epigraph worked its way into my head:

What is this Truth?
And where does it steal from?
Who is its mistress today?
And who was its master yesterday?
A fickle beast of ruthless pedigree,
Best lay it to rest with a story.
Give me a good, honest lie any day.

A version of this article first appeared on the Legend Press website in 2010.

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