Story-telling is a compulsion akin to addiction. But it’s one of those rare addictions that actually does you good. Conversely, it also does others all different kinds of good, which is why they still read books. Whether readers enjoy being creeped out by Stephen King, thrilled by Le Carre or turned on by E L James, they’ll keep buying books in which they can delve into and experience the lives of others. As a story-teller this is what turns me on. I love the fact that readers will hopefully escape the stresses of their lives and give themselves over to the stories I tell, the characters I create; that they will invest their time and emotional space in my ‘quirky’ creations. It thrills me that they will have a reaction to those characters, for good or ill. What other reason would a writer write for?
All that navel-gazing, ‘I write for myself’ stuff is the opposite of what I do. I write for the reader and strive on each page to give them something interesting, intriguing or something that invigorates the senses or the mind – and if I have fun in the process, then all the better! The initial reward for me, knee-deep in research documents and post-it notes scrawled with plot, is as Katherine Mansfield so exquisitely put it, to ‘try all sorts of lives – one is so very small, but that is the satisfaction of writing, one can impersonate so many people.’ It’s so true – for whatever time, no matter how fleeting, I have lived the lives I write. I’m fully invested in the characters. Both they and their lives are completely real to me. I’m just parachuting into them and jetting out again, hopefully without characters or readers spotting my presence. In doing so, and without leaving my desk, I have been a key part of the Bloomsbury set, a harassed desert-based cop, a documents forger, a sexy Jewish housewife, and am currently in the process of becoming a charismatic, charming politician who also happens to have a tidy side-line in serial killing.
I’m not trying to escape my own life by writing all these characters, but because writing them is a huge amount of addictive fun. It’s completely thrilling to make up stories and characters and enliven them with dialogue and purpose, knowing that hopefully I put some magic down on the page that a reader might react to in whatever way it gets them. But the biggest thrill of all is when readers say they enjoyed it. Because although novel writing can sometimes feel like a legalised form of slow, painful torture, I wonder: is there actually a better addiction on the planet?
Cal Moriarty is the creator and author of the Wonderland series. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, the first novel in the series, was published by Faber earlier this month.
Cal is also a graduate of our Writing A Novel course, and Edit Your Novel, which will return later this year.