I am absolutely thrilled to be back today with my weekly Wednesday feature that many of you are now very familiar with, #IrishWritersWed
Susan Ryan, the author of the gorgeous debut The King of Lavender Square, is kick-starting us all off for 2018 with an inspirational post entitled ‘Write What You Don’t Know’
I have read, reviewed & adored Susan’s book and I highly recommend it. You can check out my review HERE
So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Susan now….
Write What You Don’t Know
by Susan Ryan
When you start out writing, when you decide that that is the path you want to take you’re told and advised this: write what you know. It’s said that the writing will be believable, that you’ll be convincing and that your readers will feel it and be suitably convinced.
But I think the advice is limiting.
If I was to only write what I know I could write about my close shaves in Australia and in advertising. I could write about motherhood for a while too but it would soon become old.
For a start, being a mother leaves you in a suburban place you never imagined inhabiting where things like toilet training, Montessori and school enrolment are spoken of competitively.
It’s not what I want to write about; it’s what I want to escape from.
If writers only wrote what they knew there would be far fewer crime novels. They would be written by police or medical examiners or people wearing orange jumpsuits. There would be no thrillers, supernatural stories or horrors. As far as I know Stephen King is neither telekinetic nor pyrokinetic. I’m pretty sure he has never been a sewer-dwelling homicidal clown either. Science fiction and space travel could only be written by astrophysicists, astronauts and cosmologists and would probably make for difficult reads. And there would be zero magic. J.K. Rowling didn’t write the Harry Potter series because she was bored being a wizard’s apprentice. Tolkien didn’t write the Lord of the Rings because Hobbit life was proving sedentary.
For me personally, writing needs to involve stepping outside what I know, embracing the unknown and not being afraid of it. I wrote The King of Lavender Square with a very limited knowledge of football but football was a vital part of Patrick Kimba’s story and dream. So I researched. Research can be daunting. Where do you start and more importantly where do you end? But it’s like anything to do with the writing process you have to stand at the precipice and dive right in. I had played football briefly in school but badly. I took it up again but this time I was playing for a real league in Crumlin with real players and a coach who had played for Shamrock Rovers. It was petrifying. I remember the enormity of the pitch, so much bigger in real life than on TV!
The distances between players seemed unsurmountable. My lungs burned, my body ached, I lost toenails and dignity by the yard but I also got fit. And I got a real feel for the game and its language.
I felt what it was like to win but more importantly what it was like to lose.
I read a lot of books too to understand the game at professional level as well as several on coaching and tactics. I read dozens of articles about youth side matches. I watched matches, Premier League, Bundesliga and League of Ireland. After a lot of all that, I remember talking to a group of lads about football in a bar and there was a sports journalist from The Star among them. He turned to me after a while and said, “You’re well able to hold your own in a football conversation”. I think that’s the moment I knew I could stop researching. I had the knowledge and I could bring it into the novel.
Of course there are those that say that the Write what you know adage was never meant to be taken literally. That it merely was a piece of advice to apply what you do know to what you don’t. For instance taking the feeling of rage – maybe over not being able to find your keys yet again – and dialling it up before applying it to your character who has homicidal tendencies. Or leveraging the claustrophobia you felt that time you were stuck in a lift to imagine life as a nuclear submarine captain.
And then there is the research which takes time and patience as well as good doses of imagination to fill in the gaps. But the bonus is that it takes you to a new place, into unknown territory and it inspires which is always good.
Of course there’s always the fear that you won’t be able to write what you don’t know convincingly.
But fear is a good companion when you’re writing. It means you’ll never be complacent and that you’ll never take a dream that you’ve pursued for so long for granted.’
Thank you so much Susan. What inspiring and thought provoking words.
Saskia watches the lives of others from her eyrie in Lavender Square with a lonely fascination. While the teacher, the recluse, the advertising whizz-kid and the African woman and her young son run, rush, dart and dash, she knows for sure that she will never have anything worth dashing to.
But sometimes all it takes is a little magic to bring people together. And, in Lavender Square, where the lavender grows in mysterious abundance and colours the air with a musky sense of love, magic is never very far away.
The neighbours, who once passed each other by in detached universes, find themselves thrown together when they are obliged to take care of young Patrick Kimba. His mother is seriously ill and no one knows when or if she is ever coming home. At first they resist the tiresome interruption, until quite by accident Patrick’s dream of becoming a football star and finding his long-lost father becomes theirs, and their lives and heartaches become woven together in a new and unexpected pattern.
Purchase Link ~ The King of Lavender Square