Saturday, 30 July 2011

No Imagination

06:24:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 5 comments

by Ashley Lister

When it comes to the subject of location, I am beginning to suspect that I have no imagination. I used to work in an office. Where did most of my fiction occur?

In offices.

Admittedly, they were very exciting events that occurred in those fictional offices. Far more exciting than the world of processing-invoices-for-purchase-ledger-accounts. But then again, watching paint dry is far more exciting than the world of processing-invoices-for-purchase-ledger-accounts. I worked with people so dull, if there had been a resident psychopath poisoning the coffee cups, I would have ordered seconds. I worked with people who were so lacking in personality they had signs on their desks saying: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO WORK HERE – IT’S A VIOLATION OF EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY EMPLOYMENT REGULATIONS TO INSIST ON SUCH CRITERIA. And, again and again, I would see offices occurring in the stories I wrote. And, again and again, I’d think: Lister – you have no imagination.

I wrote a book called Death by Fiction. It’s a story about writers in a writers’ circle. Do you know what I was involved with when the idea came to me?

A writers’ circle.

And again, I hear the echo of that phrase coming back to haunt me: Lister – you have no imagination.

I did write a trilogy of books each based in a different European capital (Rome, Paris and London). I mention this because I have never visited Rome or Paris and it had been twenty years since I visited London before writing about it for the final book in that trilogy. But I’m not sure if this constitutes imagination. I researched all three cities with the thoroughness of an OCD-driven guidebook compositor. To show how much effort I put in, by the time I’d finished writing about Paris I stank of sweat and garlic and I’d forgotten how to brush my teeth. And the dog was pregnant.

But that trilogy was the exception rather than the norm. I do feel as though my immediate environment severely influences too many elements of my writing. And, whenever I make that realisation, I’m struck by the thought: Lister – you have no imagination.



vicky ellis said...

"And the dog was pregnant." A real, honest to God lol occurred reading this :)

Fabulous post!

As someone who gets stuck for a location, looks across the street and says to herself, "That'll do" - I know where you're coming from. It's not about the location anyway, is it? It's about what happens there. Pratchett might locate the majority of his books on the Discworld but the Discworld he writes about is centred on a University, slums, offices, farms and a police station. A backdrop of mundanity is essential for extraordinary events I think.

Ste said...

Cheers ash - no nonsense and to the point as always - starting to appreciate the honesty in your posts. Always interesting. By the way regarding the 'you don't have to be crazy to work here' comment. May I suggest you take a look at They do demotivational calendars that parody the motivational ones you see in offices. Phrases like 'COURAGE: until you have found the courage to sail far from shore you will never know the abject terror of being lost at sea' or 'CONSISTENCY: it's only a virtue if you're not a screw-up' Just a thought:)

Lindsay said...

Great post Ash :)

Ashley R Lister said...

Vicky - whatever location the writer uses (I feel) the reader is going to impose their own imagination on that setting. When I read your book, I was seeing parts of Yorkshire as the background - Wuthering Heights on a sunny day. I sincerely believe, regardless of how we describe it as writers, readers will envision a scene with a background from their own experience.

Ste - I love demotivational posters. I'm about to go and visit and lose myself there for the weekend :-)

Lindsay - thank you.

vicky ellis said...

Ash - I agree. Less is more when it comes to description (although I break this rule ALL the time). A couple of words and the reader will draw their own conclusion. What you want is a hill in the background against which the action takes place. You don't want 50 bloody pages about the hill, do you Tolkien???