On Writing Savage by Tim Madge
My novels derive from any number of sources. The genesis of Savage was my pondering over a simple question: what would be the outcome for a man, in the wilderness with two female companions, realising that they wanted him dead?
That was the easy part. How to get him to that point became the genesis of the book. Who was he? Who were they? Why would they want him dead? Or, was this in his imagining? Why, in that case, did he believe that they wanted him dead?
And death: there are many deaths, only one is real in a man – or woman’s – life. Death by a thousand cuts comes to mind, or the death of the soul, ambition, or of a relationship.
It bore in on me – and, please, do not think this process I am outlining took all that long – that there was another element I could throw into the mix, leaven the first idea into something that would bloom.
A while ago, Erica Jong came up with the idea of ‘the zipless fuck’: a carnal event between a man and a woman in which there were no consequences. And, so, as simply as that, Savage was born. The man, the same who finds himself isolated in the mountains – the most basic kind of wilderness – is offered sex on a plate. It is not even a dilemma (there may be a gender gap here), even though he is happily married.
He gorges himself; it’s over. But he can’t let it go; won’t let it go.
There is a concept in novel writing, an underlying process that, if you examine all fiction exists in every book. It is that our heroine, our hero, maybe singly, maybe together, come to a door. They open it and pass through. But, here’s a thing. He, she, they did not have to pass through that door. Once through, there is no return.
The consequences of passing through that particular door – there are many doors in life – of having casual, detached sex, one night at a party in London cannot be foreseen. Look at your own life and ask the same question? Why did I do that, not this, turn this way, not that, pass along this street, not cross the road and go another way.
And so, if you like, our story begins and the outcome is, well, Savage.
To get to that door, I had to construct an entire set of lives, not so much a back story as a universe of possibilities. I had – all novelists have – to write the backgrounds of the characters, fill them out, give each and every one of them a life to live, fulfilled or otherwise. There will be parents, friends, twists and turns to explore.
All the while, centre stage, a drama is unfolding. I am old-fashioned enough to believe a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. I like symmetries, and I hope they are to be uncovered by the reader in Savage; they are there. We seek patterns in our lives: as humans, we constantly create patterns; some discernible, some false. Here, too, the characters invent their own lives, or what they believe them to be: true, false, a muddle of each.
Like all writers, I am asked for whom do I write? I always give the Arthur Ransome answer. After all, he remains one of the greatest of all story tellers, more piquant because he wrote for children of all ages. He said, when asked that same question ‘I write for myself, I write the kind of books I want to read’. There, you have it: me, too.
One final observation: I have set the beginning and the end of the novel in the Picos de Europa, that extraordinary landscape of mountains and rugged uplands, tucked away in northern Spain, between the Basque country and Galicia. So far, it has remained amazingly unspoiled. Should you go there, reflect on its grandeur, on its remote forbidding beauty. I think you will appreciate why it is the fit place to set the final act of my drama: truly, and in the best sense, Savage.
Get your copy of Savage HERE!