Friday, April 16, 2010

On the Origin and Evolution of Ideas

With this being the time of year when I was working on my spy novel, I've been reminiscing a lot about that particular story and the other things I was working on last spring and summer. And just a few minutes ago, I was listening to the above song, and it sparked a whole new memory. Sparked, because it was one of the few cases where I listened to music while I wrote (it was only a few short days after I found out about SFG and I was still in the ZOMGNEWBANDISAMAZING phase). The memory itself gave rise to this post.

So in honor of all my nostalgic conflicted feelings, I thought I'd do a post tracing the evolution of a character I mention every now and again. Remember Ian Goodenough? Goodenough came about like so:

I am a very huge fan of the Saint. Have been ever since I caught some re-runs of the old Roger Moore series on either Gold or ITV (I believe it was Gold, but not certain) about three years back. (For the record, I now hold Ian Ogilvy as my favorite Saint but that's for another post) I had finished my first spy novel, tentatively named for a song I had been listening to shortly before writing a pivotal scene early in the book during which the song title slipped itself into the dialogue...that song, for anyone curious, was To Live is to Die. Which is admittedly a pretty sick song. But anyway, I had wrapped up TLITD and written about two chapters of a follow-up story/sequel/what-have-you. And then I hit a rut, because all I had planned for Book 2 was it to open with the black-ops group the hero worked for having moved to Key West...pretty much just because it was summer and I felt like setting scenes in Key West, dammit (granted, I had planted valid story reasons in book 1 just for this reason). But that was it. No plotline planned beyond he's on Key West, he gets an assignment. For some reason I think it may have been dealing with Cubans (bear in mind book 1 was set from March to July 1959, and book 2 beginning in late August or early September the same year). But yeah, I was in a plot-less rut.

And so I took to re-reading some of my Saint books out of partial boredom and partial I re-read them a lot because do you know hard it is to get your hands on Leslie Charteris these days? And it lead to me thinking, literature used to have great characters like the Saint (who is so much more than a gentleman thief but it is a big piece of his character at times) and Arsene Lupin (the epitome of gentlemen thieves, see a theme here?) and suddenly there's no one like them. And so I decided I wanted to write a story about a Saint-like character. Not directly Saint-like, but in the same basic spirit of Simon Templar, for the modern day. From this was born a character who I knew I wanted to be named Ian, and, well, the surname didn't come for a while.

In the original draft, Ian was awesome but eccentric beyond words. He had been an expert gentleman thief and sort-of Robin Hood, re-selling some of the stolen artworks to collectors who would treat it well or even to other museums, and then giving that money to various charities selected seemingly on a whim. Then he stole some stuff from the Louvre and left a note at the scene of the crime announcing his retirement. Flash forward to the modern day. Ian is living on a massive estate in Northern Wales, dresses in early Edwardian garb, and likes to speak in riddles when dealing with the police. Oh, and he keeps an assortment of animals on his estate. He has roving flocks of sheep out on the grounds. He has an alligator pit in the foyer, just because he can. Hell, when he first appears at the beginning of chapter four, he shows up riding a giraffe.

Ian aside for the moment, in the original draft, a group of crazed domestic terrorists who built their organization around a deck of cards break into the British Museum (it's a real place, seriously. lazy names ftw) and steal several objects from a special touring exhibit and proceed to blow up cars out front to cover their escape. MI5 is looking into things of course, but being that this is a book about Ian, they're mostly a bunch of gibbering tits who can barely put their pants on. And the Met, of course, realize they can't solve this case, so the Commissioner turns to Ian, who has at this point pretty much been given amnesty so long as he promises to help the police whenever they come to him and not bone them over by stealing stuff from anyone other than the bad guys in the process. What ensues is Ian & Police Officer Flunky (who I think may also have been named Paul; I seem to like that name for policemen) chasing this organization about while trying to learn what is they're up to, ultimately tracking them down to a totally made up town in Devonshire where it turns out...they're stealing the recipe for Greek Fire. A solid course of history or a quick look at Wikipedia will tell you why this is a bad thing.

Then comes the about-annual pilgrimage to the UK and whilst bumming about London we stumble upon Goodenough College and from thence comes Ian's surname.

New draft. Ian is still an ex-gentlemen thief, but now he's a private investigator, living in a rather opulently furnished loft in Swansea. Police Flunky Paul is now DCI of the Met. DCI Paul is unhappy at home because his wife is unhappy with their marriage and sleeps around without bothering to try to hide it, and his daughter has gone off to university and even though she's just on the other end of London she never really comes home to visit. Paul gets woken up by his kickass Regan-esque DI at three in the morning to come to some flats not far from where he lives to find a friend of the family, a young up-and-coming Scottish Labour MP whose BG is a very thinly veiled slightly modified Gordon Brown, is found dead. Due to potential conflict of interests, Paul can't work the case. Paul's cousin who lives in Sheffield ends up implicated somehow (I don't even remember at this point), and by now Paul's already over-stressed mind can't take any more so he goes back through the records at work, finds the data on a private investigator they (secretly) brought in to help nick a serial killer a few years back, and treks off to Swansea to hire him. What follows is some epic detective work and amazing gentlemanliness. I am amazed that that is actually a word. In the end, it turns out it wasn't DCI Paul's cousin, but that the young MP had had files presented to him revealing some bad shit, top secret bad shit, and he panicked and decided to take them to London to show his bosses and ask what should be done...only to be killed by one of the evil dudes' flunkies right as he was about to wake his boss and give them the briefcase. In the end, evil dudes go uncaught, because they are way too powerful to be fucked with, but their flunky involved in the killing does go to prison, so the victory isn't totally pointless I guess.

New draft. Goodenough is back to being slightly eccentric, but nowhere near what he used to be. Still an ex-gentleman thief, and still a PI based out of Swansea. DCI Paul's home troubles remain, and his Sheffield cousin is again implicated in a murder, but this time there's no politics to the plot. It's pretty much just straightforward murder with it (this time) 100% coincidentally looking like Paul's cousin did it. Proper villains are caught and the day is saved.

New draft. Goodenough is very eccentric. Not as eccentric as first draft, but I instilled a lot of my own quirks to help make the eccentricities more out there while staying believable. Goodenough now lives on the Isle of Dogs, was never a gentleman thief, and is just a rather eccentric detective. Paul is a fresh DC having just come back from four years with the VSO in Africa, though he knew Goodenough prior to leaving by back-storying up the salient details of the previous draft. This is where the Holmes/Poirot style of Goodenough started to take hold. A young Scottish teen comes seeking Goodenough's help. He lives in an isolated little hamlet not far from Dunoon; close enough to nip in for stuff but far enough to keep hidden, and that's how everyone there likes it. Super-super-super recluse man turns up dead in his bedroom, and of course the whole hamlet panics because it could be any one of their beloved neighbors. Goodenough pretends to be busy with another case and sends Paul up to start the investigation. Paul uncovers that he was pretty much a messed up JD Salinger and wrote the best book ever and then fled the US to live on his own to escape the press and his screwed up family. Eventually it turns out Mr Recluse Author had been a closet homosexual and after meeting a fellow gay American expat (who rather conveniently was his neighbor in this hamlet) they started shagging, but then they have relationship drama and he hooks up with one of the younger of the Irish brother characters for about a week, ultimately leaving him for the fellow gay American expat, and this angers the young twenty-something Irishman so he murders the old author dude (but for some reason not the old fellow expat).

New draft. Fuck novels! Novels are a bad format for Ian Goodenough, I decide. Instead, I write a short story. Once again Scotland plays an integral role here. Goodenough is showing further signs of Holmes/Poirot-style detectiving here. In this particular story, a portly chum from Inverness named Hamish Wilson comes seeking Goodenough's help, because someone has used magazine clippings to send a note stating they intend to steal all of the money from his private bank, which only deals with very wealthy clients, and they have used clippings of RB to sign the note. Off to Inverness they go and oh no! All of the customers who come in that day have the initials RB. Goodenough arranges a stakeout and...spoilers, I'm afraid. Yeah, bit of a cheap move there, I guess, but there's a reason for this.

New draft. Exactly the same as above, except for one chief thing. Goodenough is no longer a throwback style in the modern day. Goodenough works better in the old fashioned, so I tweak the story to set it in the early 1900s/early 1910s (exact date not mentioned, but I waffle between 1912 and 1903). And the ending is still spoilers. Why? Because I still have this draft saved. I like this draft. I intend to send it off to The Strand and other magazines after some polishing. Also I may post this or other Goodenough stories to the blog.

So there you have it, folks. A rather slapdash history of Ian Goodenough, from June 2009 to April 2010. Enjoy the SFG. I require sleep.

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