My inappropriate uncle – from song to story
It can be weird and unpredictable, the creative process, and, Â if my experience is anything to go by, it gets weirder and more unpredictable over time.
A small example: about five years ago, I found myself writing songs to sing on my guitar. This was not a hobby; the songs wereÂ not follies or sideshows to my professionalÂ writing. They mattered to me.
At some point, a little later, the idea of taking the songs and writing short stories around them crept up on me. Every song has a largely unrevealed hinterland behind it; I thought it would be interesting to explore that hinterland â€“ in another voice, from another perspective â€“ in written fiction.
These song-based stories were fun to write because, after the song is completed, they were already there, half-formed, hiding in a murky corner of the brain. It was just a questionÂ of finding them.Â As for performing, it has, on the very few occasions I’ve tried itÂ â€“ reading a story and then bursting into song halfway through -Â Â felt like I was on to something.
The idea for my song â€˜Inappropriate Uncleâ€™ came from the famous music hall hit from 1892 â€˜After the Ballâ€™. I liked the idea of a mysterious relation at a family gathering, a man who has a secret life. In â€˜After the Ballâ€™, he is a tragic lover. It starts:
‘A little maiden climbed an old manâ€™s kneesâ€”
Begged for a story: “Do uncle, please!
Why are you single, why live alone?
Have you no babies, have you no home?”‘
My Inappropriate Uncle is an altogether gamier figure, being something of aÂ master criminal and conman:
‘Jim was the blackest sheep of the family,
His interests were fraud and forgeryâ€¦’
Having recorded the song,Â I had a niggling sense that Uncle Jim wasnâ€™t finished with me. I began to wonder about how he ended his days. A couple of police officers, a male detective inspector and a female detective constable, crossed the world to a tropical island in order to arrest him.
In the story I eventually wrote, â€˜Operation Bird of Paradiseâ€™, Â Uncle Jim plays a small, if pivotal role. What had started out as the tale of a toff criminal took an unexpectedly romantic turn.
I think it ends there â€“ but, right now, nothing is certain.