Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Stanley - Genesis

I once had to fake a picture of the village in which Stanley was born because the posting was about snow and there wasn’t any. This picture is legitimate, however. I’m spending a couple of days at his birthplace (and no doubt soon to be shrine) so it seems apt to say a bit about him.

I’ve no idea whether anyone’s going to buy or read the Stanley stories but, for me, he’s taken on a life of his own. I ought to be treating him as a commercial proposition, and I will, of course, but even as I do so, he’ll be there as a presence, casting a sceptical eye over and shaking his head at my efforts.

I’ve mentioned before how some ideas have been generated by the early morning arrival in my bed of grandchildren, bright, wide-awake and wanting to be entertained. When I’m clever, I can get them to do their own inventing (such as when Tracey the lion took the part of Goldilocks in Tracey the Lion and the Three Giraffes), but sometimes, a riff starts and it’s easy for me to pursue it.

Stanley started as one of these. It was about the same time as I started describing the life and family of a giant about whom I can’t remember much now except that his wife played rugby. That family and more importantly, Stanley, grew from a technique I’ve mentioned in other contexts – that is, putting together things that are not normally associated with one another. My blog Searching for something other than the grooves expanded on this idea – blackbirds with vertigo, and so on.

So that morning, we were talking about fairies and, in order to provoke my two listeners, I said that some of them were different from the dingly dell, sparkly, Disneyesque creatures which were so familiar in their books. They wanted examples and, starting from the premise that not even the greatest optimist in the world can be happy ALL the time, I suggested that there were miserable, grumpy fairies. And, as the demands for more detailed explanations continued, the figure of Stanley began to form. He was everything fairies aren’t – male, with an unfairy name, a predisposition towards melancholy and a pathological dislike of every normal fairy association. Being such an outsider, he was also pretty aggressive in defending his chosen status, and, as a result, the person in whose bedroom he lived (i.e. me, in the persona of Jack Rosse), had to be extra-tolerant and all the things Stanley wasn’t, and the two became a double-act.

This all sounds too analytical and too deliberate. In fact, it was just me answering questions about this Stanley creature who, as more details emerged, took over so much that it was obvious that he would refuse to tick any of the usual fairy boxes. But why, when I got back home, did I bother to write a story about him? I’ve no idea. Tracey the Lion and the rugby-playing giant’s wife didn’t get their stories written down, so why Stanley? Maybe it’s because, having established him as a ‘person’, I was tempted to put him into various contexts to demonstrate his differences. And, once the first story was told, several others suggested themselves. So far, there are seven of them. The first, Stanley Moves In, is in fact the most recent one. I wrote it in response to the publisher’s query (based on what she knew her two young sons would ask), about how Stanley came to be living in my bedroom. And, so far, there are six more.

But who are they for? What’s the age range of the target readership? That should be easy, but Stanley makes sure that it’s not. It’s obviously for kids from maybe 4 to 10, but friends who’ve read them suggest that, in a lightweight way, he’s attractive (if that’s the right word) to adults, too. (And it’s true that, when he goes on holiday to France, a French counterpart does ‘explain’ his condition to him in ‘philosophical’ terms.)

But all this ‘explaining’ does nothing but make the whole thing sound pretentious and planned. I haven’t written this way about any of my other books, so why write about a kids’ story? I think because, the ‘reality’ for me of such an unreal character demonstrates again what a strange business writing is and what a perverse pleasure we get out of it. It doesn’t matter that it’s a ‘trivial’ story for ‘kids’ – for me it’s as absorbing to get involved in as any ‘serious’ stories. We make our worlds, we make other people and other things, and they’re as much part of our reality as the feel of the keyboard under my fingers now or the irritating beauty of the deep snow I see through the window. Stanley, like my figurehead carver, my policeman, or my murder victims, is a fact. Of course I don’t believe in fairies, but I believe in Stanley.


  1. Even the unread, or unheard, Stanley has insinuated himself into our consciousness: he is a welcome fact. And I, for one, am happy to see Bill's therapeutic shift from "As an absurdist, I don't think anything signifies anything," to "I believe in Stanley." The guru has begun his Catechism.

  2. Ahem, can there be anything more absurd and meaningless than a belief in a misanthropic male fairy who lives in a washbasin?

  3. Give me a minute

  4. I love Stanley, and I love the way your mind works, so freely going whatever direction the muse takes it. Wait, maybe Stanley is your Muse and he's just come out of the closet. We should all have so little rein on our creativity. I mean that in a good way, ;)

  5. She claps her hands, thrice just so
    He heeds her not, the cad
    And flings his scarf with evil grin
    Content to stoke the mad.

    He shelters midst the weeping drips
    And wails a sad refrain
    Of fairy dust and sparkly nips
    That doth invade his drain.

    With snarly snickers and snarky huffs
    Turned up toes proclaim his anxious plight
    As skyward wing’d motes and puffs
    Flit round pale silver light.

    I shall not yield before such strife
    The wee one doth proclaim
    For misery is my lot in life
    And Stanley is my name.

  6. Brilliant, Diane! Bill - thanks for posting a photo of Stanley's birthplace. He's now on my Kindle awaiting my attention, but I'm teaching him patience for a while longer.

  7. This is getting out of hand – a Catechism devoted to the worship of Stanley, Stanley as (a recently outed) Muse, Stanley as mythic hero of a Romance epic? He is not worthy. The worm Jack must turn.

    And, before the owners of Ambrose Cottage are inundated with pilgrims, I should correct a couple of misleading remarks. First, it is more correct to refer to this village as the place where he was conceived rather than actually born – his birth occurred a few days later in Aberdeen. And this picturesque cottage is not where his (far from immaculate) conception took place but it is on the same street.

    There were no wise men, stars, shepherds or donkeys, just the beginnings of a complaint

  8. Bill, I suspect that what you did with Stanley (and why it's so popular) is using the technique of opposites. Using opposites creates tension, is an excellent way of characterizing, and intrigues the reader. As in, "She hated machismo, and men who towered over her, and all that facial hair. Unfortunately, her hormones didn't agree."

    Your Stanley creates all sorts of questions in the reader, and makes the reader think about what he or she believes.

    Why wouldn't a children's book/series tap into your creativity and all the writing skills you've acquired?

  9. I agree, Linda, and I really enjoy and admire the YA books that are currently so popular. They call on as many skills - linguistic, observational, empathetic - as any other writing. And writers should treat their readership with the same respect, whatever the age of those who comprise it.