In the past, I have said on this blog that self-consciously striving to put across a message in a story will invariably result in the writing sounding preachy. Instead, I try to simply write a good story with no intended message of any kind, because what is important to me will ultimately be inherent in the material.
With that in mind, this might sound strange, but sometimes it takes others to tell me what my stories are really about. I have often been surprised at the interpretations that have resulted, and in many cases I have agreed – in retrospect – that these interpretations are correct.
A few examples:
During my University days, I made a short science fiction film entitled Gardening and Other Crimes (incidentally this short was subsequently remade with a bigger budget by a friend of mine who is a member of BAFTA). At the time I didn’t intend the film to be anything more than a compelling future shock drama that showcased my ability to direct actors. However, one person who viewed the finished product commented that the whole piece was a political statement about the European Union. Looking back, I can sort of see what he meant.
More recently, I have been told George goes to Mars is about the threat of religious fundamentalism – particularly to women – and the journey to becoming a responsible leader. Again, I didn’t write it with any of that in mind, but yes, it does seem clear in retrospect.
A novel I wrote earlier this year set on Lundy Island – the content of which will remain top secret for now – turned out to be less scary and more melancholy than I originally intended. It was only afterwards that it was suggested to me that the subtext was about dealing with the loss of my father.
I didn’t consciously set out to write a book about grief. Never have. Never will. I mean, how depressing would that be? No, I try to write genre stories that hopefully grip and entertain. Yet in spite of this, I must admit in retrospect that the story does contain an undercurrent of coming to terms with death.
Speaking of my father, one of the comments he made on my upcoming novel Children of the Folded Valley was that it contained a message about the ironies of trying to hide from very serious dangers only to fall victim to those very same dangers by doing so. I have to be a little bit vague, for fear of spoilers, but I was very pleased to hear that he thought I had succeeded in writing something ironic, as that is, quite frankly, bloody difficult to do. But more on that in a future post…