I turned the milestone age of 60 this year, which caused me to pause and consider the three ages of writing that I’ve lived through in that time. A metaphorical archaeological dig uncovered the Bic Age, the Remington Age and, of course, the recent IBM Age.
As a youth in the 70s, my 5-cent Bic pen scribbled many a rambling tale for friends and family, enough to know that I wanted to be a writer. Then, through the 80s and 90s, I moved up to a Remington typewriter used to sell my first short story to a Melbourne newspaper (oh how I miss that intimate thup of each key stroke), and I’ll have you know that in those days, “cut and paste” was not a figurative term. But it was in this IBM Age, with its inbuilt dictionary, thesaurus and grammar checks, that allowed me to streamline the process by progressively editing and amending as I wrote. And oh how I wrote …
Short stories in the wider speculative marketplace (particularly Horror and SF) became my initial forte which also led to pockets of journalism, seeing more than 100 stories published since, a format I still treasure and practice today whenever the opportunity arises. Unknown at the time, but the disciplines refined back then would eventually assist when writing my first novel, The Crossing, in the early 2000s (soon to be a major motion picture by BAFTA Award winning director, James Khehtie).
I believe exploring the darker side of fiction in those early days helped me with the transition to crime later in my career, not such a quantum leap when you consider that both genres explore our fears in one form or another. Writing to a strict wordcount meant being clear on one’s structure and content, which in turn meant identifying what was deemed “relevant” to the story, a key subject I highlight in my writing workshops. It’s too easy to write one’s self into a corner or extend the required wordcount without adding these tools to your writing toolbox. I recall advice from Stephen King when we were both panellists at the World Fantasy Convention in Canada back in 1984. “Less is more when it comes to scaring your reader. Let their own imaginations do the work”.
These skills would also guide the transition of novelist to screenwriter when James contracted me to write The Crossing’s screenplay (to be released as Dark Sky Island). Transforming a 400 page novel into a 90 minutes script meant that focus on the synopsis and most relevant book passages was crucial, and again the disciplines learnt writing short stories came to the rescue.
So, you see, I owe a great deal to the humble short story, without it’s teachings my novels The Crossing, Blackwater Moon and The Falls would not be the books they are today. Nor would the forthcoming 2020 releases of The Reach from Pantera Press, or Subterranean from Atlas Productions. And for that, dear reader, I remain forever grateful.