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Charlie Green’s adventures – What was the inspiration?
Since completing my first book, I’ve been asked on many occasions where the inspiration for the story came from. I believe it goes back to my childhood days, in a friend’s back garden sitting on the ground in a long, low triangular chicken coup – pretending it was an aeroplane! Julian (one of my best mates) and I spent many hours playing in the back garden of his parent’s farm house on wild adventures; the chicken coup aeroplane was just one. An adventure that didn’t work out so well for me was the long jump attempt over a dying bonfire. I seem to remember it was Julian’s idea, but I was up for it too. I wasn’t so good at the long jump though and I tripped over just before lift-off and fell face first into the fire. I put my hands out to try and protect my face and rolled out with my hands on fire. We put out the flames by rolling them in the dry, bare earth around the bonfire and then looked at each other guiltily because we’d been strictly told not to play around the fire by his mother before she went indoors.
The amazing thing was, immediately after the accident and standing, staring at my burnt flesh, I felt no pain; I guess my body had shut down my nervous system due to shock. Doctors say it’s the quiet ones at an accident scene you need to be concerned about. At the time Julian and I were more concerned what his mum would say – as she’d given clear instructions not to play with the fire. However, kids rarely listen to the word “don’t” – it’s more like a challenge to disobey! After a few minutes though, the pain started, gently at first, and my friend suggested that using Vaseline to cover my injuries might help. We crept into the house – avoiding his mother – and sneaked up to his bedroom. Armed with the tub of Vaseline we plastered it all over my soil covered open wounds. There was a temporary reduction in the pain level, but not for long. Soon I was in tears and we had to admit our situation to my friend’s mother – who nearly fainted at the sight of my burns. She did not have any bandages, but I remember her ripping up a sheet to make enough to cover my hands and arms. I don’t remember the journey to hospital, or the hospital staff’s initial reaction to my burnt flesh which we had covered in soil and coated in Vaseline – quite a challenge to clean I would have thought – knowing what I do now about burn wounds. After many weeks off school with both arms in bandages and splints, the scars healed amazingly well – I had more respect for fire after that!
It wasn’t the first or last scrape I got into, another time a friend and I decided we’d try and make gunpowder, or at least something similar (we were only twelve at the time) from chemicals we found around the farm and that very nearly ended in disaster too! In those days of course we didn’t have all the modern-day trappings of multi-media systems to occupy our time, so we made our own entertainment! I am not suggesting my examples are ones for other children to follow, but sometimes I wonder if adults forget children have vivid imaginations – it’s something most of us lose in the growing up process.
The mind of a child can take it anywhere it wants to go. It doesn’t need high resolution replicas of actual tangible things – it has imagination. Why is it that often young children take a new toy out of a box and then play with the box and not the contents? As my own children grew up there have even been occasions at Christmas time when we have taken something out of a large cardboard box – a piece of not-so-flat-pack furniture for example – only for them to abandon their pricey new toy and lay claim to the cardboard container and proceed to turn it in to a boat, or a spaceship, or some other item of their imagination! The chicken coup my friend Julian and I sat in as children in the garden, took us wherever we wanted to go – we didn’t need digital imagery.
Imagination is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, as adults most of us lose the great power we had as a child. Everything has to be so ‘real’ as a grown up. If I sat in the garden in a little triangular chicken coup now and talked to myself, or indeed a friend, the men in the white coats would soon be called to collect me; fit me with a nice special wrap around coat (straps to the rear of course) and put me in a plain little room with soft furnished walls! Some people may even think that that should be done anyway. Indeed there have been times – and I’m probably not alone in thinking it – when a short stay in the isolation of a comfy cell away from the madness of modern life may not be such a bad thing!
How about the book though, that’s what I was supposed to be telling you about!
My lifelong love of aeroplanes, a general interest in history and a fascination in time-travel – born by the book by H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, which I read as a teenager – triggered something when I first thought about writing a novel. Another attribute of mine is single minded stubbornness. Not awkward or selfish, but if I say I will do something then I generally will do whatever is needed to achieve it. It’s like fixing something of which you have little or no knowledge; if you can work out how something is supposed to work then it is just a matter repairing the thing that is not working how it should – logic. I’ve done it many times, washing machines, cars, microwave, dishwasher, and much simpler mechanisms – just using logic.
Writing a novel was something new, but once I’d said I was going to do it, there was no going back! I’m no English scholar, as my skills lie elsewhere, but it is my native tongue, and the copy editors have the unenviable task of dealing with my grammatical errors. It’s their profession after all; I’m just a pilot and a dreamer! And I am truly indebted to their patience and hard work. All I have to do is regress into the mind of a child (something my partner Helen accuses me of frequently!) and put the words together. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be at first and it took several years of holidays – where I had time to relax my mind – to complete my first book as I was still working full time. For the most part I wrote the first manuscript out long hand in several note books, and then had to type it – at a snail’s pace – into my laptop. I found keeping track of invented characters was most challenging, but I have sort of worked out a system now. Most of them are loosely based on people I know or mixtures of them, or my interpretation of their characters!
Subsequent books I typed directly into my lap top but that too has its pitfalls. After writing some 25,000 words for my third book while on holiday in Spain, I temporarily thought I had accidentally deleted the entire work. After a few minutes of serious panic I found the file which I then copied on my return home to another device.
I have tried to introduce some humour and particularly in the second novel there are subtle references to modern day people hidden in the story – like musicians, their bands or music! Only, shall I say, the older adults reading the stories are likely to recognise the references – but it might make you smile if you are reading it with your child. It’s just me playing with words. I’m allowed to, after all, I am the author! Music played a big part in my youth, as it does for many and still does today, and the references are woven into the story in a very natural way so that you could easily miss them.
A book has to be enjoyable to the writer as well as the reader and I have always had a mischievous, or some would say an annoying streak. I got it from my grandfather and have passed the gene onto my youngest daughter – just ask her sister or mother! Your challenge is to find the reference to the band U2’s Angel of Harlem and one of their best singles buried in the text of my second book and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water in my latest, Charlie Green and the Knights of the Round Table. My challenge is to keep track of the hidden references as they are rather random! However, I have my offspring to thank for reminding me that we all have an imagination, or is it that my imagination?
One night I said to them; “you are the sunshine of my life, that’s why I’ll always be around, you are the apple of my eye, and forever you’ll stay in my heart”. Oh no I didn’t, a well-known American singer did! There I go again – joining my daughter – away with the fairies. Who was it that sang those words in a song?
Hold on, is that the doorbell I hear ringing, or just bells in my head and why are those men outside wearing white coats? Who told them I had imagination anyway? Is it such a crime? I blame the Goblins that hide behind the chicken house at the bottom of my garden!
If you have an idea for a book don’t be afraid to try and start writing it. My books gradually evolve from an overall concept and develop in detail as I go. Sometimes the details of the story comes to me in fits and starts and often when I’m not actually at my computer, so I have to jot them down on paper so that I don’t forget the inspiration! And like an impressionist artist, I most like to write outdoors where I can watch nature whilst trying to conjure up the next sentence. I find listening to music can help too, with inspiring lyrics which I occasionally sample and weave into a passage of my story with subtle changes for the reader to workout.