Friday, 3 April 2015

How Terry Pratchett and Daevid Allen Inspired This Aspiring Writer

I realised last night that it's been a while since I used this blog - and I thought it might be a good idea to come back paying tribute to two of my great inspirations, while I've had a couple of weeks to collect my thoughts on them.

Sir Terry Pratchett passed away on Thursday 12th March, after a long battle with Alzheimers in which he fought valiantly. I was reeling - I know it sounds awfully odd but Sir Terry was one of those people who, despite being ill, I kinda expected to live on forever. It's strange, I know. I just never expected to finish my shift at work that day only to be told that he had passed away.

A day later, I woke up to the news that Daevid Allen, founding member of Gong, had passed on. He'd had cancer, it had spread to his lung and he had opted to stop treatment - in order to live out the rest of his days more comfortably, I suppose.

And I know I'm still writing my book and the world hasn't seen any evidence of it yet so this entry may not have quite the impact on people, but I feel I still need to write it because Sir Terry and Daevid were two crucial inspirations of mine, without whom the book may have never been conceived - and without whom it may not have survived past the year 2011. But more on that in a bit.

I started writing "The Great Couch Happening of '69" (shortened to "Couch" on here because I'm lazy) back in 2009, when I was going through a pretty dramatic change in the direction I wanted my writing career to go. I'd been writing semi-seriously for many years before that, and everything I did write was my idea of rather dramatic, serious fantasy - not "serious" as in "good", "serious" as in "no room for humour here, lads, just drama, death and people lamenting their ill luck and crossed fortunes".

Writing this stuff was undoubtedly cathartic as I got picked on a lot in my youth, and I learned a lot about the craft, but as I got older and matured into a pretty mellow person who stopped giving a toss, I realised it wasn't quite right for me any more. A lot of the stories just petered out, something was missing. For the longest time I couldn't quite figure out what it was.

If people were to ask me what gave me the initial idea to write "Couch", I might have referred them to the Caravan song, Winter Wine - but that's not strictly true. Because back when I was in high school, in the year or so before I put those first words onto paper, I picked up a couple of novels by Terry Pratchett in our school library - specifically, The Wee Free Men and The Colour of Magic.

Literally my favourite photo of Sir Terry ever taken.
I read them, I laughed until tears were streaming down my face - this was an experience I had never had with a book, and if I could compare a writer's career to anything cosmic, this was the moment where the second Big Bang happened for me, after I had given up and all the serious fantasy stuff had crunched back down into a shapeless singularity again. Terry's work helped me realise what was missing. I would read Douglas Adams' and Robert Rankin's novels about a year later, and they would add fuel to the fires of creation.

What 15-year-old me concluded upon finishing The Wee Free Men and The Colour of Magic was that they were two of the most fun books I had ever read. I got the feeling that Sir Terry didn't take himself nearly as seriously as wannabe-writer-me did, and his prose was hilarious, and it flowed. I've always been a pretty humorous person (in my own weird way, of course, not everybody finds me funny) and I realised that I just needed to let things go a little bit, let my own sense of humour permeate my writing and my characters.

So yes, though Winter Wine was where the idea came from, the genesis of "Couch" was really only a later stage in a process kicked off by my discovery of Terry Pratchett's work. I feel like Terry really wrote from the soul - he didn't just write what was expected of his chosen genre (like I did back when I was a kid), and he inspired me to do the same. So I decided to let myself go, have fun with my writing, and since then I've had some incredible experiences working on this book.

Daevid Allen, AKA Divided Alien, Bert Camembert, Captain Capricorn, Dingo Virgin, Ja Am...
And then there was Daevid Allen. I'd been listening to Daevid's work for many years, being that he started off with The Wilde Flowers and then Soft Machine, and I discovered his work with Gong in 2011. From there, I went on a mad quest to acquire as many of their albums as I could.

NaNo 2012 and 2013, where I'll readily admit the bulk of my novel was drafted, I spent with Gong's music in my ears, and Daevid's incredible solo work. Daevid was a man who could blend psychedelic, punk and jazz to perfection - it was this heady, freewheeling mix that provided the backdrop to the months where most of my madcap stuff was written. Daevid's music had the kind of atmosphere I wanted my book to have, albeit in written form, full of energy and colour. The bad bout of depression I had in the later months of 2011 nearly killed my novel dead, but I would say that Daevid's music was one of the things that helped bring it back.

Plus, writing aside, the music is just so damn good. I had a hard time listening to any of Gong's and Daevid's albums for a few days after hearing the news that he had passed, but a few days ago I finally put on Floating Anarchy and realised how much I'd missed it.

Just thought I'd close this entry off with a really nice quote about Daevid from The Daily Telegraph:

"Allen revelled in being the court jester of hippie rock and never lost his enthusiasm for the transcendent power of the psychedelic experience. He once remarked: "Psychedelia for me is a code for that profound spiritual experience where there is a direct link to the gods." That he never attained the riches and fame of many of his contemporaries did not concern him."

So yes, thank you Terry, and thank you Daevid, for the inspiration and the motivation. One day I'll have this bloody novel finished - thanks in part to you guys. I hope that what I'm writing is something you guys might have liked.