It's a good Scots word, Thrawn. I like the feel of it in the mouth, the sound of it as you roll the 'r' around. And true to my Scottish ancestry, I am possessed of it in spades.

For the confused, a basic definition of Thrawn is perverse obstinacy. I don't think that quite gets the full flavour though. Thrawn isn't just cutting off your nose to spite your face, it's eating your nose to spite your stomach too. And getting a warm, fuzzy feeling from knowing you've held to your principles, even as the blood is pouring from your open wounds and you're retching gristle, skin, cartilage and bogies onto the cold ground. Thrawn defies logic and is far more destructive than mere pride.

A case in point: last weekend it was the Horse Doctor's oldest brother's fiftieth birthday. Yes, we're starting to get on a bit now. To celebrate, he had a party in Ayr, where he lives, and we went - well, you would, wouldn't you. The Horse Doctor drove up from Wales on the Friday, then we travelled down to Ayr on Saturday. The needs of livestock meant we couldn't stay overnight, so I didn't drink. That wasn't what ruined the party, though. I'm more than capable of having a good time without the aid of alcohol.

No, what ruined it for me - at least to start with - was the music. The DJ had been organised by the Horse Doctor's sister, and he had a peculiar style I'd not encountered before. Instead of playing tracks on a record deck, the way I used to back in the day when I did that sort of thing for a living, he had a sort of karaoke machine that played both the backing track and backing vocals to a number of songs. On top of this, the DJ played his own guitar and sang the lead vocals - a sort of halfway house between a live gig and a disco.

The music he chose wasn't all that bad, to be honest. Most of the crowd were in their forties or fifties, and he pitched the songs accordingly. But I couldn't - wouldn't - get up to dance. No matter how much the Horse Doctor pleaded with me. Instead, in best sulky teenager mode, I moped about it and wrote a few sarcastic tweets.

You see, for some reason I'd decided I didn't like the way the music was presented. I couldn't understand why the DJ didn't just play the original songs, without adding his often inappropriate vocals and ropey guitar playing on top. He added nothing, as far as I was concerned, and so I wasn't going to reward him by strutting my stuff.

Stupid, I know, but the thrawn set in. And once that's happened, there's no turning back.

I enjoyed the party well enough - chatted with people I'd not seen in a while. The Horse Doctor, who knows me pretty well after all these years, ended up dancing with her cousins and brothers, so I think she had a good time too. But I'm sure she would rather have danced with me, and I'm sure I would have had a better time if I'd just been a little bit less pig-headed.

Thrawn gets in the way of writing, too, as Mr Stuart will readily attest. Here, though, it's not so easy to be sure you're being pig-headed or just true to yourself. Natural Causes, which is available as a reasonably-priced download at Amazon (US and UK) and Smashwords, is a case in point. I originally started writing in what might be called the crime oeuvre because I was getting nowhere with my fantasy books. Stuart had made the switch and suggested I do the same. 

I'm somewhat lazy - another perverse facet of thrawn is the effort we'll put into not budging - and so dredged up Detective Inspector McLean from work I'd done before. He appeared first in a comic script I wrote on spec for 2000AD in the early nineties, which was never taken up. I used him in As if by Magic - a one-off piece Stuart and I created for From the Sublime... a comics and RPG fanzine we helped set up back in the dim and distant. He made appearances in my second and third novels, Head and Jacob, but was never the main attraction. Dusted off, made a bit younger, less world-weary and only recently promoted to inspector, he thus appeared in a short story, The Final Reel, that I posted on this blog back in 2005.

I wrote a half dozen McLean shorts, and then embarked on the novel, Natural Causes. And in all of these things there is an undercurrent of the paranormal. McLean is a policeman, in a world that looks very much like the one we live in. You could call these books police procedurals if you wanted. But they have that element of fantasy that only he can see.

It's six years since I started writing crime fiction, and I've not managed to get an agent, let alone a publisher. I've had lots of kind words, a few near misses with potential deals, but always it ends up the same. The books are too straight for the fantasy crowd, too fantastic for the crime lovers. I fall between two stools.

Now anyone else told this time and time again might think - aha! let's change it. One way or the other: remove the ghosts entirely, or ramp them up so they're an accepted strand of the narrative. But not me. Oh no. Thrawn kicks in, you see. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

I did try removing the ghosts. The short story Jenny, published by Spinetingler last year, has nothing in it that is supernatural. It's a straightforward story of misery and misfortune. A version of The Book of Souls in which every strange thing that happened had a rational explanation made the rounds for a while, but it was a bit rubbish, really. Derivative, formulaic, over-long and a bit boring. I've even written what might laughably be called a thriller that is completely straight. It's the shortest book I've ever written but took me the longest time to write. Soon I will sit down and re-read it, but I'm not hopeful that it's any good.

My heart's not in that stuff, you see. I love reading it, but I also love reading fantasy, SF, even poetry if the mood takes me. When it comes to writing, though, I have to have that element of the unreal, the unpredictable. And if I fight against it, the thrawn kicks in and spoils everything.


terlee said…
Oh I've missed you!! How brilliantly you made my Scottish husband such a pig-headed, high-handed, horse's arse sometimes.

Sorry, sorry, got a bit carried away with the memories.

Loved this post. Too funny...and the attitude is so familiar I can just picture you at the party, scowling as you tweet.

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