It was a dream. Or a daydream, perhaps – hard to say. I had been writing the Captain Scarlet books and struggling with how to find the drama when you have an indestructible hero. What came to me out of the blue wasn’t of any use in the book I was actually writing. Where the Muse is involved, you can never order what you want, only what you need.
A man lies on a slab. In voiceover: “I always wonder if it’s going to work this time. If the eyes will open and let in the light. Will I feel the rush of blood coming back? Will I manage to take that first breath?”
(Yeah, it’s too much, but this is the stuff as it comes straight out of the depths. The craft of writing is to refine it.)
I realize it’s not a slab. He’s on a couch and this voiceover is presumably what he’s saying to his psychiatrist. And just as I think that, it's like a cut to a body floating in murky water. I'm looking at the body from below as it drifts up towards a patch of greenish daylight and is hooked by gaffs. Indistinct noises turn to shouts as it breaks the surface.
On Westminster Bridge, a sullen crowd has gathered. In the daydream, as it dropped into my mind, I know that the war against the Mysterons has dragged on for years and drained Earth’s resources. People live in poverty and fear, resenting the military types who descend – literally - from the clouds. The Thames is filled with dozens of corpses drifting by. Colonel White watches from the bridge as one of those bodies is hauled up onto the Embankment by his men.
An angry voice in the crowd: “Can’t you leave the poor devils in peace?”
Colonel White replies, almost to himself: “One of those ‘poor devils’ has a dinner date at the Savoy.”
The Spectrum agents have put up a tent beside the river. Inside, doctors work on the dead body they’ve fished up. Pumping the river water out of the lungs, washing down the body. A soldier starts to clothe the corpse in full evening dress. As White enters, a doctor is reading from the instruments they’ve wired up: “Biotoxin levels dropping. Cellular activity at eighty percent, ninety…”
And just as the soldier finishes knotting the bow tie, Captain Scarlet gives a gasp and sits up. He blinks, shows no emotion. He’s used to this; it happens all the time. It's one of the things that is edging him away from being human.
White puts an invitation card into his hand. “There’s a car waiting. Come on, Scarlet, no lying down on this job…”
Now, I didn’t “invent” any of that. Not in the way that, when designing a videogame, I identify a problem and then devise different ways to solve it. It’s not even like storyboarding a scene. That too is creative, but it’s creativity with a target. You’re using the tools of the craft to make something work. But in the beginning, faced with the blank page, creativity merely consists of making yourself a conduit. In storytelling, fragments like this just arrive. They’re only half-formed, but I don’t know who it is who has worked them even to that stage. The Muse, I guess. “The boys in the basement” as Stephen King calls them.
You hope for something you’ve never seen before. And when those fragments arrive, it makes the job as fresh for you as for your readers. Of course, that’s just the one percent. Then comes the perspiration.
Justin Atholl - Justin Atholl is one of my long-standing "Mysteries That Have Me Mystified" authors. He appears to be a real person, probably a reporter as he contributed to...