One thing you can depend on for a writer is that if you ask them what they're thinking , whatever they reply you can be pretty certain that at least a part of their mind is thinking about a story. It might be no more than a slight itch at the back of the mind, but it'll be there.
So, being a writer, it is hardly surprising that when I was in Paris in the Spring stories were taking up a corner of my mind. After all, even a desert can be fertile ground for a story, which makes ideas for fiction seep out at every turn in Paris.
Fortunately, the friend I was staying with understood, and on the last day of my trip came up with something for me to take home. It was a quote in the frontispiece of a novel by Mathias Enard called Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'elephants.
Puisque ce sont des enfants, parle-leur de batailles et de rois, de chevaux, de diables, d'elephants et d'anges, mais n'omets pas de leur parler d'amour et de choses semblables.
Here's a translation:- Because they are children, tell them about battles and kings, horses, devils, elephants and angels, but don't neglect to tell them about love and things like that.
Not being able to find an attribution I assumed the author must be Mathias Enard, but I wished that I knew for sure.
I loved the quote. It seemed to sum up exactly what I thought was important. Yes, of course a fast moving plot is paramount, especially in the sort of fiction for the 8-12's that I usually write. But, and I think this is particularly important for boys; love, and things like that is also vital. Girls tend to be better at talking about feelings, while some boys, I think, can find it harder. Of course, both boys and girls can feel pretty lonely at times, when what they're feeling is muddled and difficult. I believe that one of the best ways of understanding that you're not alone in your feelings is through a good story. So the quote resonated with me, whoever had written it. But the story doesn't end here.
Some while later, a review from an American newspaper fell into my inbox. It was a glowing review of a new novel that had been in the final selection for the Prix Goncourt in France. It was being translated, and would soon be available in America. To my delight the book was the very one that had contained my favourite quote, and at last I found out what I wanted to know.
The reviewer wrote that the quote came from one of my own countrymen, Rudyard Kipling, in a collection of stories published in 1915 called Life's Handicaps. It's a little known collection, but I tracked it down, and found those wise words in the preface of that book, which takes the form of a discussion between two storytellers, one an elderly Indian who speaks his stories, and the other an Englishman, who, like Kipling writes with pen and ink. The discussion is about the art of storytelling, and the wise words come from Gobind, the holy, one eyed Indian.
And so, the quest for an author led me on a long journey, from England to Paris and back again, and across the Atlantic, with a nod to India, only to find that in true and pleasing storybook form, the answer lay in my own land.
I'd love to hear about your favourite quotes, and why they are special to you. I have mine pinned up by my desk, and my eyes are drawn to it often, as I ponder the twists and turns of the story I am conjuring from behind my eyes. And I will try never to forget to include at least something about love, and things like that.