I can’t remember where I picked this tin cup up. I presume an airport somewhere in Canada. “Exit, pursued by a bear” being the famous stage direction from Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE. ( Here’s David Tennant absolutely killing Just A Minute on his first attempt, talking for sixty seconds about it.) For the writer’s wandering mind, this joke cup is in fact a writer’s cup.
I like having a few tin cups around because I don’t want to take wine glasses into the garden. I am clumsy. And working.
I haven’t done anything to this garden in probably six or seven years. Honestly, I’m quite fond of the wildness of it. But the edges are closing in, and I can’t grow food out here. So, Thursday morning, I kitted up and came out here with tools, determined to at least clear the round patio area by the east fence, which had turned into a mysterious dark glade. Now, I like a mysterious dark glade as much as the next person, probably more, but this isn’t a big garden and I need that space. As I write this, my hands and the soles of my feet are covered in hotspots and I have a full-body ache, but the round patio is clear. Once I put the PVC mini-greenhouse (bought six or seven years ago) in place, I poured myself a tin cup of red wine, sat in the shade and thought about writing.
Three or four years ago, George RR Martin had this to say about writing:
I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.
Most of my idols were architects, I think. Alan Moore had a famous “big piece of paper” for BIG NUMBERS that had every action for every character in every issue of the planned series. Here’s a photo of a photo:
Here’s a curiosity – in the early 80s, Alan visited New York, and wrote (was this in ESCAPE magazine?) about meeting Howard Chaykin and learning that Chaykin painstakingly worked out AMERICAN FLAGG’s structure in advance. There were no more details than that, but at the end of that decade Alan was structuring a book on a vast graph. I always strongly suspected that Chaykin influenced Alan to be an architect. One of Alan’s earlier touchstones was Thomas Pynchon, whom I conceive of as more a gardener. I start to see James Joyce in some of Alan’s latter work, and ULYSSES is a work of architecture.
I wanted to be an architect, deep down. When Jonathan Hickman appeared, his ability to visualise and fling these huge structures up into the air was a fascination to me. (PAX ROMANA, perhaps his least-loved work, is one I revisit every couple of years – in my head, it links to Matt Wagner & Tim Sale’s wonderful “Devil’s Reign” sequence, and back to Delany & Chaykin’s EMPIRE.)
It was a shock to me when William Gibson turned out to be a gardener. I remember him talking about SPOOK COUNTRY, starting with a compelling image that stuck with him, and just… writing. Discovering what the book was about as he wrote it.
As a writer, I am, I think, a bad architect. I make myself start with an outline, and then I wander. I plough the fields and scatter. A case in point is CASTLEVANIA Season 3. I knew pretty much where I needed every character to be by the end of the season in order to achieve the strict requirements of the fourth and final season. Everybody had to be in place for the last act of the story. I ploughed the field in straight lines. But the field was way over there, and I just went over there in any way that felt right. And, frankly, I think I ended up kind of next to the field in question, rather than at its gate.
I’m bad at plans. I try, but I always end up winging it.
But I grew a lot of stuff along the way – the Flyseyes monologue, which I think was one of the most successful pieces of writing in the whole season, just kind of happened. Grew out of the dirt I’d tilled. Structurally, it was probably one of the worst things I could have done. But stories are not structure. Structure is a set of signposts, and only in the most austere modernist nouvelle roman would you find a set of signposts presented as a story. It’s your story. You can touch each signpost by any route you choose, and decide to skip one or two if they’re not necessary to the journey. Or even if not necessary to the journey that pleases you. And you can pause to raise a plant or two along the way.
Sitting out here in the garden, it may be, at this late stage, that I have to accept that I’m not a great architect, and perhaps it’s okay to be a bad gardener. Build the raised bed, score the lines with a trowel, scatter the seed and accept that the wind and the rain will cover the lines and that I won’t know what grows out of it all until it happens.