In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.
My earliest Christmas memory is of being five years old and curling up on the sofa to watch the latest screen version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. I was delighted and terrified in equal measure as the story unfolded and for a moment the only world that existed was the London in front of me on the screen: a mystical place where ghosts roam the streets, gnarled candles burn dimly in the windows of counting houses and fog rises from the river.
But there was a line that stayed with me long after the film had ended; that remained in my subconscious as I grew up and took my first tentative steps to becoming a writer. It comes when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his childhood and he fails to notice the resemblance between his dead sister and his nephew: her son. The Ghost chastises Scrooge, telling him: ‘I’m beginning to think you have gone through life with your eyes closed, Ebenezer.’
And I remember thinking that no matter what life had in store for me I would go through it with my eyes open; wide open to the world and its wonders. All these years later I am still an avid people watcher. Real lives, the lives of ordinary men and women going about their business, are always extraordinary to me, for it is here that the great dreams, the highs and lows, the tragedies, the love affairs are played out every day, without fanfare. The streets of Soho and the men and women who live and work in this unique part of London went on to inspire my debut novel Soho, 4am, which, with its twenty-four hour time-scale and a cameo appearance from Marley’s ghost, is also my own little nod to A Christmas Carol.
So my writing tip for Christmas 2013 would be to step away from your desk and get out there; out onto the street where lives and stories in all their complexity are being played out in real time. Watch the mannerisms, the quirks and stolen glances; listen to the turns of phrase, the forced laughter, the warm words disguised by a gruff facade, the sorrows hidden behind a thousand smiles. And when it’s time to return to your desk and the half-finished manuscript flashing on and off on your computer screen you will find that those characters you were having trouble fleshing out will suddenly spring to life. You will feel as if you have know them all your life and, in a way, you have; for the dramas and plots and tragedies, the high-intensity love affairs and heart-stopping adventures we all like to read about in books have always been there, right under your nose all this time, hidden beneath layers of stiff upper lips and polite hellos; waiting for you to notice; waiting for you to open your eyes.