You gotta search for the hero inside yourself ~ why I write what I do.

You gotta search for the hero inside yourself ~ why I write what I do.

A long time ago now, or so it seems, I wrote a paragraph in my walking notebook. I carry a notebook everywhere, even to hospital. I recommend the practice to every writer or thinker. You can lose so much by not recording those apparently passing or random thoughts. This is what I wrote, sitting on a winter beach under grey skies in a town that I felt would never welcome me:

I look for you in every stranger’s face I see. Sometimes I think I see your eyes, your hair, your mouth. I wait to hear your voice when the phone rings, or see you across a crowded café. Hopeless. You’re not real. You don’t exist. I created you, your world.

And yet. And yet I feel you out there, alive and real as the stones, the shingle that crunches beneath my feet, or the waves that roar and sigh as they hit the shore. I made you up, and yet you haunt me. Yours is not a tale told by an idiot. It’s real. Somewhere, somehow, both you and your world are real. I’m looking for the door so I can step in and join you. So far the only door is my computer screen.

What are these insane longings for things that can never be?”

At the time I was in the process of incubating a third book in the series that began with The Bet. During this incubation time, I feel often as if I am on the very brink of dying. Melodramatic, I know, but that’s how it feels. It feels as if I need to commit some huge act of personal violence, some vast enactment of the turmoil inside that shows no sign of ever coalescing into anything more orderly. There’s a sequence of internal combustions inside that resemble more closely than anything a probable rapid descent into madness.

I don’t like myself very much; I think that much is clear from how I often wish to negate my own existence. I’m not who I think I am, not really. At some deep level I feel myself someone utterly other than who I appear to be. It’s this conflict of self that may drive a good deal of my depressive illness, this inability to square these images and blueprints of myself and be at peace with them all.

So I write.

Every character in every novel I’ve written faces the same dilemma, this same insoluble puzzle. All six of the main characters in Strangers and Pilgrims  tries to square who they think they are at core with who they manifest as in real life. Their distress at the apparent impossibility of this task is what drives the opening chapters of the novel. Isobel in Away With The Fairies  feels that her real identity is being swept away, subsumed and even wiped away by the life that has come to her; her distress when the two worlds she’s trying to live become impossible to maintain drives her inwards to seek her answers.

The most heartbreaking of them all (so far) is Antony Ashurst, the main character of The Bet, whose attempt to reconcile his distress ends in tragedy and a complete destruction of who he believed himself to be. Isolated by circumstances and by misunderstandings, he reaches breaking point and yet does not quite break.

You gotta search for the hero inside yourself

Search for the secrets you hide

Search for the hero inside yourself

Until you find the key to your life

I’ve written before about heroes  ,  the bond between heroes and the writer  and villains, / and I even used to teach a TEFL lesson on the subject. (though alas the students always leaped first to the idea of the superhero!) but I suspect that it may cause some controversy if I suggest that many writers (I cannot say all) do indeed put a lot of their selves into the heroes they write. My old blogging friend Barb used to ask in her author interviews whether the writer had put themselves into their stories. While I cannot speak for anyone except myself, I believe that I do put a considerable amount of myself into the characters of my novels.

It’s not escapism that makes me do so, though for the duration of the writing I do escape from some of the pain. Rather it’s a part of my own search for a key to my life, as the song suggests. Searching the hero inside myself may sound like a somewhat grandiloquent statement but I believe it’s true and it may be what gives me courage to carry on when I’m ready to give up and die inside.

2 thoughts on “You gotta search for the hero inside yourself ~ why I write what I do.

  1. It’s certainly true for me, aspects of myself go into my characters, in my case all of them, huh, even the villains. And there is a main theme working away and writers who pretend otherwise may be fooling themselves. Apart from sharing and providing entertainment, writing is also an attempt to discover the key to an essential presence at the core of oneself. And I believe that where the unfolding myth is most personal it becomes universal.


  2. I don’t think any writer can avoid putting a little of themselves into their books, Viv. Even a superhero is perhaps a manifestation of what the writer would like to be, like to believe, wishes. That’s certainly true in my SF, in which the heroines tend to be a little larger than life. I confess, I’d love to have a supercomputer in my brain to supplement my mushy brain.

    Even in “To Die a Dry Death” which is a dramatization of real events, which happened to real people, a little bit of me peeps out, I guess. If not in the characters, or what they did and did not do, then in the way the story is told. Who is a sympathetic character, who is not.

    A thought-provoking post, for which I thank you.


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