My inappropriate uncle – from song to story

It can be weird and unpredictable, the creative process, and,  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 were not follies or sideshows to my professional 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 – in another voice, from another perspective – 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 question of finding them. As for performing, it has, on the very few occasions I’ve tried it  – reading a story and then bursting into song halfway through -   felt like I was on to something.

The idea for my song ‘Inappropriate Uncle’ came from the famous music hall hit from 1892 ‘After the Ball’. I liked the idea of a mysterious relation at a family gathering, a man who has a secret life. In ‘After the Ball’, he is a tragic lover. It starts:

‘A little maiden climbed an old man’s knees—

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 a master criminal and conman:

‘Jim was the blackest sheep of the family,

His interests were fraud and forgery…’

Having recorded the song,  I had a niggling sense that Uncle Jim wasn’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, ‘Operation Bird of Paradise’,  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 – but, right now, nothing is certain.

Inappropriate Uncle is on the CD ‘Lovely Little Games’, and can be heard online here. Operation Bird of Paradise is a Kindle Single.