A charming man called Dave, @ddryan on the Twitters asked me:
“Have you ever written a blog post about how you take an idea, expand on it, develop plot and characters?
I never have but it’s a nice idea partly because we should share these experiences, but also because it would make me actually think about it.
If I do think about it, all I can recall is I just sit down and start writing, but actually the process starts long before finger touches keyboard.
I’ve explained how I came up with the idea of the ‘News trilogy’ elsewhere, so I’ll concentrate on the book I’m writing now, ‘Josh Joshi and the Great Divides.’
The initial idea started to emerge about three years ago when I became aware of the building boom in London.
I drove into London on the A40 late one night, there is a section of this road as you pass Harlesden in West London where the road descends a hill and much of central London is visible.
You can see the Shard, the towers of the city and even, on a clear day as far as Canary Wharf from this location.
That night I saw a constellation of red lights in the sky.
Hundreds and hundreds of lights spreading as far and wide as I could see. They were warning lights on the top of enormous cranes. Hundreds of them.
A little research revealed that no less than 417 apartment blocks were under construction in the city. The country had been ransacked in 2008-09 during the banking crisis, the introduction of austerity and all the other nonsense foisted on us by the banks.
You may be able to discern a slight bias in that last section, but the more I read about this terrible mess, the vast sums of money normal taxpayers shoveled at a small bunch of bankers who’d been gambling, fiddling, lying, cheating and they still lost billions.
I mean, they are rubbish aren’t they? With all those advantages and they still blew it.
We really should be angry about them.
There has been a subtle war going on for most of my lifetime between multinational banks, financial institutions, mining, fossil extraction, tech and manufacturing corporations and national governments.
I’d admit that’s it’s still in the balance at the moment, but what happens if they win?
I mean really win, take over everything.
I started taking notes, doing research, keeping track of the influence they have over government. The revolving door between corporations and government in the UK, top civil servant working on corporate law gets hired by large corporation to work as lobbyist to change those laws.
One small example among thousands.
I focused on London because the results of globalization are very obvious in the only mega city in what was Europe.
Hundreds of apartment towers containing multimillion dollar apartments, bought by Russian, Chinese, Greek and Middle Eastern millionaires and left empty.
This at a time London is going through a never ending housing crisis for ordinary people with normal jobs, they can’t afford to live in the city and have to travel in from distant towns and suburbs.
So while all that was all happening, then I went to India.
I made a documentary for the BBC about the Mumbai suburban commuter rail network, it was a brilliant experience.
While on a long train journey with the crew, our head camera operator told a story of a South Korean film director who was kidnapped by North Korean’s and forced to make films for Kim Jong-il.
It was a barking mad story and the weird part is, he did eventually make films for Kim Jong-il and apparently they were quite good!
Anyway, sitting on a train for 9 hours crossing the Indian sub-continent was not a location I would have imagined having an epiphany about a story.
I envisioned someone who lived in London, a city state governed by corporations, who is somehow lured, duped or kidnapped into going ‘over the fence’ to the mysterious rest of the country.
When I got back to the British Isles I started to flesh out the story.
I didn’t want my main character to be a film maker, I mean, who is going to make and watch films in 80 years, anyone and everyone.
I wanted him to be an entertainer, something I had personal experience of, but clearly he’d have to be an entertainer in a manner that doesn’t yet exist.
I came up with the name Josh Joshi, I have no idea where that name came from, but Josh sounded right for a comedian, a joker, a light hearted buffoon who was popular and successful.
So I put together a pitch and uploaded it to the Unbound website.
Sweet, a load of people supported the book and I started writing in earnest.
Then Brexit happened, my silly notion of a separate corporate ruled London collapsed in a morning.
I sat looking at a blank screen and knew it wouldn’t work.
I left it for a few weeks and eventually talked it over with the wonderful Unbound founder, Karl Marx lookalike John Mitchinson.
Over an alcohol free beer we came up with the notion of a Balkanized Britain, an island split into many parts, each with a totally different method of government, with different and competing relationships with the rest of the world.
I felt invigorated and excited to see what would happen to Josh Joshi. That’s one of the things II truly love about writing, when I start, I’m really not sure how it’s going to end.
As the book develops, the story emerges, ideas feed in and change it. I have a rough overall notion, copious notes, back story, ideas for characters but I’ve learned from previous experience that the characters not only become real in my head, they do things I haven’t planned.
It just becomes obvious they would do something which totally screws up the original story.
You either go with it or give up.
I go with it and hope what happens works.
It doesn’t always and you have to be prepared to dump thousands of words and start again.
I write fast and re-write slowly.
I record each chapter as an audiobook and listen back to it, often writhing in agony at the sentence structure and pacing, but then I re-write with less words, more clarity, a clearer overall idea of what I’m saying.
Once the book is complete, I’m drained and hollow for a few months until another idea grabs hold of me and I wait. If it stays with me I might try and make it work.
Thankfully Josh Joshi and the Great Divides is one idea that continues to grow.