Sunday 3 November 2013

I AM John Sharpe

It’s that time of year again, where the daylight goes unnoticed and sleep is rare, while I am tucked away in my little bothy, hammering on the keys. Yes, National Novel Writing month is here again and, once again, I have decided to take part in this global event. Every one of us hundreds of thousand of wannabe writers have their reasons for needing to knock out 50,000 words in one month, each as valid as each other. Mine is quite simple. Currently my day job consists of research and writing for 8-10 hours per day, while I compile a massive history book, on a two year contract. With that and running this old farmhouse, it tends to leave little time for much else, except, of course, drinking.  With a project of that size, I find myself immersed into my own world, day and night, a personal world where nobody else would either understand or care what it entails. I am alone in there - just me and a whole bunch of cows.
So NanoWriMo offers me an escape to another world, although perhaps still not the real one. Now, I have to be someone completely different. Many years ago I did some acting and, to play a part well, you have to image yourself on that person, and become them for as long as the show runs. I feel the same about writing a novel. In the past, most of my 15 or so novels have been fiction, where the mind can run free and the central character does what I tell him to. In fact, in many cases, the protagonist takes over and skips happily through the story, while words appear on the pages as if by magic. But this year is a little different, as my story is a true one, waiting to be told or, at least, dramatised. This is the first time I have ever done this and am finding it damn hard. As the protagonist in real life has since died, and I have only sketchy details of him, I discover that the only way to bring him to the page is to don his shoes and coat, and be John Sharpe for a month. And he is very much, most definitely, not me!
Quiet, calm, clever, resourceful...need I go on, when I describe all the things I am not? Being someone else takes total dedication, probably twice as much as knocking out 50k words of fiction. Each morning, I have to pull on the mask and transform, not unlike Spiderman, except not as exciting and with baggier clothes. My partner thinks I am bonkers as my voice changes to broad glaswegan, my walking pace slows, and I stare at nothing much, saying even less. My dog has since disowned me and visitors think they have the wrong house. Today is day 4, and I am just starting to wake up with the same dreams that I think John Sharpe, an engineer from Aidrie, would have; ones where he achieves his objective of building and flying his own aircraft. Although he is not me, I have come to like him.
Only now we are one, can I proceed towards the goal of this exercise and get his story written, as it needs to be, within the allocated timescale. It will probably only sell one copy, to his grandson, but who knows, he might send it to the BBC so that the man can be immortalised in cellulite.
Strange, really, for once writing a book for an unselfish reason.

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