It was presumptuous to imagine I could toss off a quick novel on the strength of one published article of a thousand words. How would I dredge up another seventy nine thousand? On what? ‘Write about what you know,’ I’d told my pupils but it didn’t feel as if I knew about anything at all as I lay bleakly on the bed, staring at the unresponsive ceiling.
A stranger’s death notice caught my eye as I flicked through a newspaper. Someone had lost her son. A boy on a brand-new motor-bike. I couldn’t imagine how I would react to a loss of that magnitude. Or maybe I could? I wrote the first chapter. In long-hand. Then, because I hate books which feel as if the writer didn’t know how to end the story, I wrote the last chapter. Only seventy five thousand words left for me to find…
I had no idea what was going to happen in my story. I didn’t even know who was in it. ‘Write to your strengths,’ I’d advised my pupils. My strength lay in the type of feature one finds on the back page of Fairlady. Would anyone publish a whole book of these pages? A compendium? A collected edition? I decided to start and see where the story went.
It went nowhere. I wrote over a hundred pages with no sign of a plot. In desperation, I threw in a couple of the travel pieces I’d written which meant the story now made no sense at all. I seemed to have a predilection for tragedy. Several of the main characters were already dead.
But I didn’t throw it away; I stored it in a deep drawer and resolved to try again. This time I decided on the plot before I started writing. I shared a Life Line shift with a Psychology Masters student from Wits who was writing her thesis about an autistic child. My exposure to autism at that stage was confined to Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man; I’d been fascinated by the curious mix of ability and disability which characterises the disorder.
I’ll find out more, I decided, as I drove home. The seed for Kaleidoscope was sown.