O was twenty-nine when he died, and now he lives in my head. He says it’s like swimming. He can’t breathe. “You don’t have to,” I say. “You’re dead.” But he just sighs. At first, there was a lot of…
Where Stories Come From: Dreams, Notebooks and Fear.
I want to write about where stories come from. Or, at least, where the bits that make up stories can come from. As writers we’re constantly faced with a blank page. Filling it is the thing.
This story originated in a dream. A good friend of mine died, and for a while I dreamt about him a lot. One morning I woke from a dream and wrote a 3000-word story which told exactly the dream-as-dreamt. It didn’t make for great reading. But the first line, the first thing I wrote down in my notebook on waking, was “O died, and now he lives in my head.” Dreams are useful as a source of inspiration, and I’m sure this will not come as news to you. But I’d steer clear of using them in their entirety. Like life, they usually make little sense.
This brings me to notebooks. Most of this story comes from mine. I jotted down “helmet cam” after a conversation with a mate who’d suffered a bad cycling injury. “Heat turns you into someone different,” was overheard in a conversation. I saw a television news item about a village built on a rubbish tip, and I jotted it down. “Illuminated jigsaw pieces” and “something in his blood stopped working” were phrases I wrote in my notebook after a plane journey and while thinking about my father respectively. “Look like a prick in photos,” was also in the notebook. It’s from cringing at photographs of myself.
As I was writing this story, I had my notebook to hand. I tend to write in fragments, so when I want to know where a story needs to go, I flick through the notebook and a phrase will select itself for me to use. In this way, the story is built up.
When I started the story, all I had was the first line and the idea of writing about grief. I built it up by listening to the characters speak in my head (they really do this, don’t they?) and using my notebooks for building blocks when I was stuck. When the deceased character in the story said the line (in my head) “You’re like a snare drum,” I almost deleted it as too clichéd, but on the back of it followed immediately the “you need someone to hit you” line.
That was when I knew I really had a story.
It concerned me. A man writing in the voice of a bereaved woman, one who has suffered (at least once) physical violence at the hands of a partner. But I believe we should write wherever our words take us, and the authenticity of the story can be judged on the story itself. I hope it works. I believe it does. And the fact that it frightened me to write this story, and that every time I read it back it frightens me anew, means that it is absolutely the story I needed to write.
JASON JACKSON’s prize-winning writing has been published extensively online and in print. So far in 2018 Jason has won the Writers Bureau competition, come second (for the second year running) in the Exeter Short Story competition, been runner-up in the Frome Short Story competition and had work short-listed at the Leicester Writes competition. His work has also appeared this year at New Flash Fiction Review and Fictive Dream. In 2017 he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Jason regularly performs his fiction around the south-west of the UK. He tweets @jj_fiction