When I was fourteen I wrote my first ever attempt at a serious novel. To contextualise this, throughout my childhood I tried many times to write what I was sure would be my big, bestselling debut. I never really made it past a couple of chapters on any of these though, but it didn’t mean I hadn’t spent months planning out every detail and nuance of the books. Of course, I was a little kid and didn’t have the attention span to sit down and really write anything, but the intention was there.
Now bear with me, because this gets a little complicated. At my old high school we had a program called ‘activities week’, which ran at the end of the school year. Basically, students got to choose from a range of generally cool activities to do, things like abseiling, horse riding, archery, etc. In the middle of it though, was the only one that bore any interest for me; filmmaking. Basically, we had a day to cobble together a short movie. Needless to say, there was no question as to what I’d be doing. In year seven I made a two minute movie with some friends, but by the time the next year rolled around I had a plan. My best friend at the time, Jenny, and me, had written a script, cast it and roped everyone necessary in to make our epic little thriller film about a serial killer. It was going to be awesome.
I had ripped off the concept from my two favourite films at the time; Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs. At the centre of the plot was Frank Carsons, a mild mannered police officer who had a split personality. Sometimes he would become a vicious mass murderer. The film, imaginatively, was going to be called Slasher. I spent hours mapping out the plot, backstory, characters, everything. All for a ten minute film. I could not wait.
The final product was less than brilliant. Turns out that a bunch of thirteen/fourteen year olds running around pretending to be tortured police officers and twisted serial killers did not make for a convincingly compelling drama. On top of that, our parents, probably correctly, thought the whole thing was disturbing and so Jenny abandoned all our epic ideas for sequels leaving me alone with a lot of notes and material.
Even in retrospect I think our parents overreacted. I have always liked twisted, dark stuff not because it relates to some evil recesses of my personality, but because that sort of thing is so far from my life that it fascinates me. I want to understand it; I want to know what makes these people tick. While other people my age were excited about the new Pirates of the Caribbean or whatever other trashy Hollywood piece of garbage was coming out, I would be watching old horror movies. Characters like Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates set my imagination on fire because they were interesting beyond the level of typical, lowest common denominator entertainment. They seemed real to me because they were complicated, layered and deeply messed up people, but never monsters. The artists who created them treated them as characters, not villains, and that drew me in. When I made an attempt at my own crime drama in Slasher I wanted to do the same.
I suppose that’s why, when the film didn’t receive nearly the enthusiastic response I’d hoped for, I didn’t give up. I went back to the script and notes; re-wrote, re-shuffled and completely changed the whole story until I had the beginnings of an epic novel on my hands. I would prove how good my story was, and so I dove in. I spend all of 2006 writing that damn book; for the first time in my life struggling with keeping a story together, with writers block, character development, everything. I obsessed, procrastinated and for the first time in my life I felt like a writer. I renamed it Checkmate and tried to fix everything that was wrong with the film. When I finally finished the damn thing it was like a weight had been lifted. I had written a book and I knew I could do it again. From then on I couldn’t be stopped. I wrote so many different things, indulged so many sometimes terrible ideas and eventually, three years later, the first draft of Windmills emerged.
In many ways, Windmills is not all that different from Checkmate. Obviously its better; I had years of experience on that first attempt. But the two stories have a lot in common. They’re both dark, crime related tales told from multiple perspectives and made up of a cast of characters that are neither good or evil, but somewhere in the middle. They both are full of the sort of ideas that have always fascinated me. I still believe that Checkmate, even if it will never see the light of day, is one of the most important things I have ever written, and it never would have existed if it wasn’t for those films I loved as a fourteen year old kid.
This leads me to something I’m very excited about. On the 18th of March, a TV series called Bates Motel is starting. A couple of weeks later, on the 4th of April, another series titled Hannibal will also begin. Naturally, these are the television adaptions of the stories of those two fictional characters that inspired me so much when I was younger. The truth is, without Hannibal and Norman, I might not be the type of writer I am today. Windmills probably never would have existed. So, as you might imagine, I am pretty damn thrilled for these new versions of those classic characters to capture my imagination all over again.
Writing words about writing words.