Yesterday I caught a train up to Benalla for a writing workshop I was running at their library. Naturally I had left all my planning until the last minute and decided to finalise it on the two-hour train ride. This seemed like a reasonably solid plan, at least by my poor standards, and I was all set to go until I sat down on the train, looked out the window and started imagining Boone Shepard sitting on a similar train.
When I stepped off at Benalla station I had finished a 3000 word short Boone adventure.
This is not remarkable. The last few weeks I’ve seemed to be perpetually smashing out these little stories, all with silly alliterative titles and all involving Boone getting caught up in some absurd peril. And I’ve been having a great time with them. They’re the kind of adventures I can come up with fast, make up as I go along and have a hell of a lot of fun writing. The problem, however, is that they are literally the last thing I should be doing. Currently I have no shortage of important writing commitments and I do not have the time to be writing these dumb little adventures that serve no purpose other than being put on my website on the off chance someone wants to read them. In fact, every time I sit down to actually, y’know, fulfil an overdue responsibility my mind starts drifting to what adventure Boone and I can run off on.
There are a couple of reasons for this. I wrote the Boone Shepard series over 2013/14 in a marathon writing session that yielded five novels, in which time I barely worked on anything else. Consequently, I didn’t really think about Boone Shepard again until over a year later when I was in America and felt this sudden inclination to revisit him in a short story that I wrote in one night in a bar in L.A. And damn it was fun. Everything else I tried to write in America had the pressure of a deadline or being for some important purpose. But this story was something else. It was just me making up a little yarn designed to amuse myself. And that, I think, is why I keep coming back to these. Almost everything I write nowadays is either to be performed or to be delivered to someone or is a redrafting of something that’s been sent back to me. Everything I write has some greater importance. But these Boone shorts just don’t. And that is very liberating. Without the pressure for them to be good, they seem to flow in this natural, carefree way that feels kind of rare for me now.
The other reason is that, after finishing the novel series, part of me feels like I’ve earned this. Boone Shepard was always supposed to be my Tintin or Indiana Jones, a heroic character who goes on a whole bunch of disconnected stories, but the novels didn’t really go that way. Instead they became a much bigger, more sprawling saga that meant the book series ultimately took the shape of one story divided into several parts. I don’t regret that; I’m very proud of the way they turned out, but now that I’ve told that story, the pressure is off and I can take Boone on all these silly, small scale adventures. I see it like how the Sherlock Holmes stories worked; there were four novels but the bulk of the character’s outings were in short story form.
When I finished that story yesterday, I still had two and a half hours in Benalla before I had to head to the workshop, so I went down to the café at the art gallery overlooking the river and I got to work on a different project, one I’ve been procrastinating for weeks now. In one intense writing session I finally finished the first draft of that script and it left me buzzing as I walked into the workshop (which went fine despite my lack of preparation). And I sort of think part of this was thanks to that Boone story. I’d gotten writing, I’d had fun, I felt good and that left me with the energy and excitement to commit to actually finishing something of relative importance. So while initially it may seem like a counterproductive waste of time, I’ve reached a point in my life where writing is basically my job, which is where I always wanted to be so I can’t complain, but every now and then it’s refreshing to write something that has no purpose other than entertaining myself.
These stories will all eventually find their way online. Currently The Californian Catastrophe and The Haunting of Haddock House are on the Bell Frog Books website, with The Photographer’s Folly, The Perilous Piracy of Promethia Peters, The Audacious Avarice of Avery Arbogast and The Terrible Theft of Tiberius Train still to come, along with whatever other story ideas with alliterative titles I come up with in the weeks, months and years still to come.
So am I going to break the habit? Not at all. Do I think it’s getting in the way of more important projects? If anything it’s kind of helping.
Just some thoughts.