Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Birth of a Story - Austin

It was one of those strange triggers that sets a writer’s mind off. Our grandson was sleepy in his booster seat behind us. There was just enough snow on the road to demand attention to my driving – and Grandma started an “I Spy” game. A little stream, mostly hidden under snow, passed beneath the road – and suddenly my mind was weaving a story. I entered into the game a bit, but for some reason my wife thought I should watch the road. Like most males, I’m not great at multi-tasking. But usually I can drive while my mind toys with words. The “I Spy” game led to another game that got us mostly home. I entered into the second game more than the first, but my mind kept gnawing at the story idea. We dropped our grandson off at his parents and headed the next couple of kilometers home. We unloaded the van and puttered at a few little chores – then finally – I grabbed a clipboard and made a dash for the bathroom.

I wonder how often the first words of great stories are written while sitting on the throne?
Bathrooms are not the most inspirational places in the world, and toilets are not the most comfortable seats, so I didn’t linger long, but that story idea had already taken on an identity.

Those first paragraphs were enough to begin to channel and focus the creative juices. There is an urgency to first paragraphs. I don’t pretend to understand it. I have had those moments before when some brilliant idea is demanding my mind’s attention, but I cannot or will not give in to it. Later, when I try to recall even the germ of the idea, all the magic is gone. But with a few words down on paper, there is a sense that something has come to birth.

Supper, devotions, dishes and feeding the dog all intervened before I peeked in the cradle again. There was a hunger in me – but no sense of panic. The birth had happened. Now, there was feeding and nurturing, that delightful adventure of learning the personality of an infant story – of waiting to see if it would be a strong-willed story that would wrest control from the author and go in places he never imagined – or would it be compliant, cooing and smiling and responding to the author’s will at every point?

Research will include the retreat of the ice from the last ice-age as well as the meanderings of the Saugeen river – and little tidbits of history along that river.

Two hours began a story that even in its rough, first draft, delights and astonishes me – for it is a genre that I don’t write.

He had been born as the great ice-sheets reluctantly retreated north. Just
months after Caledon Mountain thrust its bony spine up to the sky, he woke to
the chill tickle on his tummy as he rolled down an icicle. That was his very,
very first memory. When he hung for a moment over a big empty space he wasn’t
old enough to be scared. And when he stretched all out of shape, then suddenly
broke away, he had gasped with astonishment, then giggled when he plinked into a
little puddle. . .

A drip in a puddle: “A Child’s History of the Saugeen River” has been born – though the working title may not be the one registered on the birth certificate. Time will determine that.
Brian Austin

1 comment:

Judith Lawrence said...

Dear Brian, I love your account of how you responded to the first words of your new story. How well I know the loss of not responding to those first thoughts and trying later to find the thread of my idea. I wish you much joy in the writing of A Child's History of the Saugeen River, and look forward to hearing of your progress.
Blessings, Judith Lawrence

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