Friday, 10 September 2010
The gilt frame
The Gilt Frame was a story I wrote specifically for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. Writing a story to order is a very different thing from having one in your notebook for years, tinkering with this and that, without pressure of time.
Having a background in illustration and cartooning, I am reasonably at peace with the notion that you can't simply sit around waiting for an idea to arrive. For much of my illustration career I was working for newspapers and to very tight deadlines. Often you were expected to fire back an idea immediately on hearing the outline of a piece that was yet to be written. Doing this requires being able to mentally search in a lot of different directions at once, whilst also being able to make decisions quickly. You have to be brutal too - if an idea isn't working (either for you, or your editor) you have to ditch it and try something else. It was very good training for a writer, I find.
The Tales of Terror books each have at least ten separate stories and then a wraparound plot about the narrator. Not all of these stories will be fully (or even partially formed) when I sit down to write the book. I am constantly scribbling down ideas and possible scenarios. But some of the stories exist only as a title in my notebook - a title that suggests something, but not anything specific. The Gilt Frame was one of those.
It is quite hard to talk about The Gilt Frame without spoiling it for someone who has yet to read it. But I liked that play between the world 'Gilt' and 'guilt'. As a story it falls into the 'be careful what you wish for' category - The Monkey's Paw by W W Jacobs being perhaps the most famous and satisfying example.
At the beginning of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, I have Edgar follow Uncle Montague down the dark corridor of his house, desperately trying to keep in contact with the light from his uncle's flickering candle.
I wanted this to be a metaphor for storytelling (or of a particular kind of storytelling at any rate). The writer is only illuminating a very selective part of the imagined world that he or she is describing. Because the reader is completely reliant on the writer for all their information, it means that they have to take much of that information on trust.
It is part of the writer's job to thoroughly abuse that trust.