Memory and the Citadel of Chaos

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
Albert Camus

I'm no existentialist, so forgive me if what follows completely misses the point Camus was making, but this quote echoes in my head a lot.

The act of writing Will's adventures is, in large part, an attempt to return to a feeling, to a vibe, that I remember from when I was a child. It's the feeling of discovering other worlds, of having a glimpse into a realm that is thrilling yet also somehow reassuring. I'm sure many of you can name moments when you first encountered the work of a writer - Tolkein? le Guin? Iain Banks? Neil Gaimain? - when your mind was opened to something beyond the everyday but, at the same time, it felt like coming home. You discover a place or a voice that sounds like where you want to be or how you want to speak. These moments linger long in our memory. In times of distress we might draw on them. Or when we turn to create our own worlds.

One memory that looms large when writing Will's story is of The Citadel of Chaos, the Fighting Fantasy book by Steve Jackson. It's a cold day, and I'm off school, probably not feeling well. I'm in bed in my room, warm and comfortable, 'playing' the book with my pencil and my dice. Those books were so evocative, so immersive, borne of the immediacy of being directly involved as the protagonist and the wonderful illustrations by Russ Nicholson. There is a kind of snug darkness about this memory, an odd combination of travelling to a perilous world without ever leaving the security of home. And there was a sense of a world waiting to be discovered, of adventures yet to be had, all in a fully realised world. Good writing does this, especially when combined with good illustration - it evokes a world beyond the story, a world you want to explore. Curled up in my room, I was taken to this other place, but the memory is defined by that atmosphere of potential, of setting out.

I want to generate that feeling in what I write. Obviously, I can't do it for the reader, but if I can do it for myself, maybe I'll be able to take you somewhere also.

I'm aware that this is a tricky business, leaning very close to self-reflexive nostalgia, an escape from difficult life into the security of memory. I don't want Will's story to be too safe a place - it has to feel real, risky, and not excessively derivative. It is, I suppose, the difference between performing cover versions and composing original material. What is it that you want to do? Are you happy to keep going back to the stuff that first got you excited, that introduced you to these other worlds? If so, there is a vibrant community of fan fiction writers out there, ready to welcome you. Or do you want to take those vibes, those early memories and use them to tell new stories?

For what it's worth, I'm trying to use those great and simple images in whose presence my heart first opened as the foundation for something new. And, if not new, then at least exciting.