The question that’s always asked of any writer.
The question I dread.
In part, this is because the honest answer is one that usually means nothing to the questioner. DOUGLAS BROWN, RUNNING DOWN has a central character with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, but it isn’t about P.D. It deals with it, sure, and provides – I hope – some interesting information on the subject. It could be said to provide, in ad-speak, a Unique Selling Proposition, the thing that makes the book stand out, and it’s certainly a useful way of fending off the question. But it isn’t what the novel’s about, not really. It provides the subject-matter, certainly, but there’s something else that lies behind it, the fundamental reason for writing. There’s story, there has to be story, and in this novel there are two linked storylines, one to do with the job Douglas has been asked to undertake and the other to do with his daughter, Kirsty. But story doesn’t these answer the question, either. What then does?
Of course there’s always Dr. Johnson’s dictum – ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money,’ – and much though I revere the great man, I have to disagree. Or perhaps I prove him right; I’m indulging myself in a gross folly?
No, there’s another motivation, the one that makes me want to write a particular story, this story and not that story, that makes some ideas fizzle out, fail to sustain my interest, die on me. It’s the business of writing itself, of language and the use of language. That’s what DOUGLAS BROWN is about. That’s what my prize-winning short story THE GOAT is about. It’s just an answer that isn’t what the questioner wants to hear, it’s poncey, it’s pompous, it’s pretentious. It’s unfortunately true. I have many story ideas which dribble into the sand shortly after I start them because they don’t give me the right buzz, the one that comes from language, from the fascinating technical challenge of telling a story in the right way, in the way it should be told.