When neuralclone first suggested a LoM/Miss Marple crossover, I giggled to myself and murmured, “that will never happen.” Two days later I found myself typing the scene where Gene offers Miss Marple tea and biscuits. The power of suggestion is strong with this one, remember that.
I don’t know why this appealed to me. I knew it would be difficult to make it work. The Miss Marple world and the Life on Mars world are two distinctly different spheres. And it’s a pocket-sized murder mystery – tricky to pull off at the best of times. But, for some reason, it did appeal to me. The first thing I needed to do was read a Miss Marple book. Poirot has always been my detective. I’d only ever watched the Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan productions of Miss Marple and had limited book knowledge.
I started with the second Marple book, A Body in the Library - and it was really the perfect launching pad, because it was just as tongue in cheek as I wanted to be. I then went back to the beginning to read A Murder at the Vicarage and was surprised by how different Jane Marple was as a character. And then I was writing, so no time for reading, until I got writers’ block and started The Moving Finger (an unfortunate title for a novel not about prostate exams, if ever I heard one.) I rounded it off with a Poirot book - Cards on the Table, where one of the characters is a very amusing detective fiction writer that is most definitely a parody of Christie herself.
I knew that this was to be familiar and unfamiliar in various different ways. I knew it was going to be me attempting plot again. (Plot? Oh my God!) I could tell that I was going to adopt some Christie-style mannerisms in my writing. And, since I was festering on the subject, I knew it was going to be partly about Sam and Gene’s pure, pure love for each other. There’s a very deliberate reference to “Every Little Counts”, because it is, essentially, of the same type – Sam and Gene buddy cop gen where they’re removed from the station. I know this. You know this. So I might as well hang a lantern on it and have them ‘building’ a staircase, right? Right.
And that was something that was obvious to me – it had to be very referential. It had to acknowledge that it was playing with genre, that it was a work of fiction, of fantasy. Part of that was me being disingenuous in the notes – making no reference to the fact that Sam actually doesn’t have the capability of bringing fictional characters to life. But it’s still in the ‘lah lah lah, it’s all fantasy’ ilk of storytelling. Why didn’t I have Miss Marple just be Miss Marple? Matthew’s given me the construct to do such things – hell – I could have Sam and Gene be carnival showmen and still have it be perfectly plausible given what Matthew’s left us with. AU? Not so much! We’ve got an infinitely expanding universe, baby. It stretches for eternity.
I couldn’t do that. I just don’t think it’s me. I don’t think it’s Sam. (But then, I also didn’t think Sam would ever commit suicide – and still don’t, so, you know – differences of opinion and all that.) As it stands, this story could very easily fit into a Life on Mars that involves real time travel, or an alternative dimension, a real 1973 – and I like that. But, Sam has still chosen 1973 and this is important, because he is a much more relaxed Sam. He’s a Sam who knows he enjoys Gene’s company and may still have wrong-headed notions about who Gene is, but is willing to learn and get over them.
As a point of interest, I don’t really think Gene’s full name is Eugene, but I have a tradition of changing character’s names. Gene has previously been “Holman Eugene Hunt”, for instance. Hey, he might still be. Chris is “Christian Paul Skelton.” It’s silly. But fun.
Whilst writing, I left chronology behind again. In fact, several elements of the story were influenced directly by the ending scene, which was the third or fourth part I wrote. My impatience gets the better of me. Also, though, I do think it’s very important to know what you’re working towards with a murder mystery. It’s best to know who the killer is, at the very least. So, no, my notes weren’t as structured as they were for Palimpsest, but yes, I had an idea of where I was going and what I was doing. I had quite a lot of notes on the characters who would be involved. I would write scenes in my notes file and then build up the narrative in order to slot them in.
It’s taken me almost a month to write this story, (and I do mean a couple of hours a day - unemployment, woo), and there were times where I was clawing at my hair, wondering why I’d started. “It moves too quickly!” I would say. “This could be novel-length!” was another. Yes, and yes. But I’m not up to writing novels yet – I’m really not. I need to master shorter pieces first. I’m a very neurotic writer – second guessing every decision, rereading and editing as I go along, changing words, changing direction. It takes a lot of effort for me to tell myself to stop fiddling and just write. I often have to bolster my confidence and convince myself that I’m doing it because I want to and there’s nothing wrong with that. I know I’m not a brilliant writer. But I also know that I’ve improved considerably since starting this whole writing thing. I know that if I keep working on this, I’ll get better. I sometimes shoot my mouth off about narrative practice and logic and I easily condemn, but I know – it’s not easy, this writing lark. It’s kind of awful at times. Especially when you’re just finding your fingers. It’s so much simpler to be a computer chair critic.
Style-wise, I was back with long sentences, yay! And description too! But of course, this ‘isn’t serious fiction’, so it’s in keeping with past endeavours. Long sentences = humour. Short sentences = drama. I don’t actually think sentence fragments make writing more serious, but it certainly seems that my subconscious does. No, I don’t know why. Style-wise, I was also very much ‘in Sam’s head’ – and seeing things from his biased and occasionally narrow-minded point of view. Oh, Sam. He’s very much cast as an idiot in this story, but he has to be for the narrative to work – it’s another Christie-ism.
To know one’s worth. To know oneself. Something that Sam and Gene both actively seem to avoid, ninety percent of the time. To me, the story is about assumption and the dangers it encompasses. It’s also about playing with text, convention and genre. And just having fun, really. It’s about me doing that ‘wacky hijinks’ thing I said I would. It’s about me getting interested in something and going, “oooh, how can I apply that in a comfortable setting?” I couldn’t have my last Life on Mars plotted fic be Palimpsest. And To Know One’s Worth may not be nearly as well conceived, or written, or full of impact. But at least it’s mostly cheerful. At least it’s meant to entertain.
Please don’t think that I’m intending this to be my last Life on Mars plotted fic either. If you’re reading this, chances are you know me. And you know that I can’t let go that easily. Even if I probably should. But there was a time there where I thought it would be better to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. I guess I just don’t think Palimpsest was a big enough bang. I’m still wanting to write the story. This isn’t it. Maybe it doesn’t exist. But I’m enjoying the journey. And hopefully, other people are too.