It’s subjective, I know. But my most favourite of all my five stories in the Falling into the Five Senses anthology is ‘The Diamond Taster’.
It is, obviously, my story about taste, or rather, the sense of taste. Originally, I was stumbling my way something very different. A much more orthodox story that I can’t even really remember any more. I know it was going to feature my favourite spice cardamom in some way – and I know this because I couldn’t find my jar of cardamom and had to buy another one.
In the end, the new jar of cardamom wasn’t needed for my ‘taste’ story. Because I picked my copy of Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats. It is a collection of his non-fiction writings – his introductions, prefaces, reflections, papers presented, thank you speeches and anecdotes – about other authors, about comic books, interviews, writing and other things. I dip into this book frequently. Pick it up, pick up a random page and read. It will always be interesting.
For my ‘taste’ story, it also proved to be inspiring. Again, I can’t remember exactly what I read in View from the Cheap Seats. I honestly don’t think it was anything in particular. I think I was just inspired by the vibe – by how effortlessly and magically Gaiman seems to wield words. I was inspired to turn my back on a plodding idea and to find something magical, bold, different.
I started with the words which are still near the start The Diamond Taster.
Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed Mr Glass like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park – bright, fast and ever-changing.
It was said that he travelled to London on the airship, Regine Roua, (first-class, of course) from Prague (via Berlin and Paris); that he travelled light, with only one carpet bag with a design of tessellated geometric flowers in black and white; that he spoke the languages of the countries he was in; that he carried a cane which held a compass; and that he wore a traveller’s cape the colour of dried blood. These can be accepted as essentially factual statements.
There were other, more colourful reports about his immediate actions upon arrival. He traversed London via an unauthorised single-person gyro-copter. He dined on bowlfuls of eels and artichokes and drank only Astigone’s Absinthe Elixirs. He booked out the entire top floor of Abbess Ermentrude’s Turquoise Salon for days at a time. He garrotted numerous (the number kept increasing) nameless persons in back alleys. These reports remained unconfirmed.
I had no idea what the story was going to be about, or where the story would go. Even my style is different – flippant. It had to be flippant in tone otherwise it would slide into earnestness and that would kill any progress right there.
I don’t know why, but I started slipping in hints of steampunk. A little sliver of magic glowed beneath my fingertips. Grab the magic (but do it flippantly). Did I know much about anything steampunky? Nope. But it felt right. Keep going. I gave Mr Glass, Diamond Taster, hints of a most wonderful back story, that I want to come back to and explore more one day.
I built a moment in time in a story, in a flippant-unlike-me style I loved. Now I just needed to turn it into a story.
I couldn’t just describe the scenes in the moment in the story. I needed something like a climax. Or an ending. I re-wrote the beginning. Several times. I chucked it aside. This was a fun side-writing inspiration-diven thing, and I really liked it, but it wasn’t a story. I re-dipped into View from the Cheap Seats. Again, whatever piece I landed on convinced me to keep going. Magic. Find magic. Make Magic. It wasn’t going anywhere on the screen. I started scribbling on paper. Did I need to include a snippet of his childhood? Ye-es. Did I want to? Ye-es. Was it necessary to building a full story. I don’t know. Did it go at the beginning? I. Don’t. Know. Did it need someone else? Ye-es. Where and when should they come into the story? Dunno. Ooh, I liked this new character. Keep it, but where? And how? Did I need to start with their backstory? OMG, I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW.
I remember when I hit the thing that made the story become a story with an ending. I was in the kitchen perched on the edge of a chair, scribbling on a hard copy on my knees. (No sitting formally at the screen. That would kill the flippancy). I remember how I punched the air with a delighted grin.
I had my ending. I could now re-work the beginning and slip in the bits and moments to get my ending just right. I knew which backstory bits to keep and which ones couldn’t stay. I slipped into attempts at pretty descriptions of the backdrop.
In many ways, the story is the start of a story. But I love that about it too.
It is the one story I will unashamedly say I’m very proud of (modesty be damned!). It started and stayed so far away from my usual way of writing that it could so easily have been left to wither far from home. Instead, I found magic in it!
If you want to read it – and all the other awesome stories in the anthology – you can grab it here.