So, halfway back up the A23 to London from my research trip to Brighton, I had what I was fairly sure was a viable idea for my first ever story for radio. Pier Productions' brief for this trio of stories, 'Lost in the Lanes', gave me my central problem, and I had 2000 words to solve it in. Next had to come Who? and Why? And in beginning to think those out (dream them up? But it felt more like 'discover them'...) I realised I absolutely knew where the story ended both physically and emotionally, because it's bedded in the physical and emotional shape of Brighton. It's not uncommon for me to know where the story must end before I know much else and, as I was exploring in How Are You Going to Get There, it can be hugely helpful: if a short story embodies a single moment of change, then if you know where you're going to end up, it becomes fairly easy to think backwards over the hump of the assymetric hill, to where the story must begin. After that, it's only (only! hah!) a matter of writing your way from one to the other. (In looking for that link, I find that it, too, sprang from thinking while I was driving. Interesting. Driving, being a right-brained activity, means that your dominant left brain switches off, and your creative, free-wheeling right brain, for once, can take control)
But just as the cloud of unknowing in my head became big and thick enough to seem inevitable, I suddenly remember that the producer might not like this idea. She might think it was too like one of the other stories, not radio-suitable for some reason that a novice couldn't guess, or just plain boring. It didn't feel boring to me, but it was still latent, as photographers say of the image you can't see on the film or paper till you put it in the developer. I didn't actually know how the central problem was going to manifest itself or be solved, and the only way of working that out, was to write it. And I wasn't going to write it till I had the commission.
So I quickly thought up two more ideas: one based on the central idea of a story I wrote a few years ago, which might find a different form and character if it was manifested and embodied in Brighton. That would have been pleasing because I never quite pulled that story off, and it would have been good to have another go at the idea, and with different enough materials that I wouldn't just be tinkering with it. I never go back to past work, in the sense of getting a piece out of the drawer and having another go at it, but I very often re-work ideas and characters which have refused to go away into something completely new. And the other idea was based on an anecdote which Debi Alper told me about an experience she'd had in Brighton, when I said I was going there. It's the most wonderful little moment, just short-story-sized. But of course I was going to have to ask her if I could use it, transplanted to a different time, because if she's got any sense she'll use it herself.
The meeting was on Monday, and on Sunday I had heavy-duty work on the new novel to do. I was anxious to get Chapter Four kicked into shape, so that the decks were clear as soon as - if I - got the go-ahead on the story. I tentatively blocked out the following weekend, in my work diary, for writing the story. But of course the idea was still running around in my head. It wasn't that I was making loads of notes, or thinking things out in a coherent, plotted sort of way, because for such a short short story, the first draft is my planning. But I did take a bit of Monday morning to work out both the creative and the business things I needed to make sure we'd discussed. In my experience agents/editors/producers are much better than I am at making sure that everything which should be said has been said. But it never hurts to have sorted out your own needs in your head. It happens that the producer lives not very far away from me, so after lunch I slapped on lots of sun-cream, and set off to see her.