Wednesday 17 October 2012

How to write an adventure story - Josh Lacey

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Cheltenham for the book festival. On a clear stretch of track between Stroud and Gloucester, brakes squealed and the train shuddered to a halt. The door of our carriage swung open and a man appeared, carrying a pistol in one hand, a rope in the other. He pointed his pistol at my forehead and said,

Actually, that's not true. I did go to the Cheltenham Literary Festival, but the most dramatic thing that happened was getting slightly lost on the way from my hotel to a restaurant. I did, however, spend a whole day talking and thinking about adventure stories.

In the morning, I ran a creative writing workshop with fifteen talented and imaginative young writers. I advised them on how to write a great adventure story; we talked about creating fascinating characters and putting them in dramatic situations; and then they hunched over their desks and started inventing their own adventures.

In the afternoon, I took part in a panel discussion with two fellow writers of adventure stories, Andy Briggs and Anthony McGowan.

Both of them have taken classic adventure stories and revitalised them for a new generation. Andy has written a series of novels about a contemporary Tarzan, while Anthony has found a very clever way of reviving Williard Price's novels, which I loved as a child. Price's heroes were Hal and Roger Hunt, teenage brothers who travelled the world hunting down animals; in Leopard Adventure, Anthony picks up the story of Hal and Roger's children, Amazon and Frazer, who are eco-warriors, intent on saving endangered animals who are under threat in exotic, dangerous locations around the world.

I was talking about my own Grk books and my new novel, The Sultan's Tigers, the story of a boy and his uncle tracking down a lost treasure in India.

The event was chaired by Daniel Hahn, who began by asking us: What makes a good adventure story? What are the ingredients of a great adventure novel?

I was about to list all the obvious ingredients of a great adventure story - an appealing hero, a dastardly villain, a plot that holds you with its twists and turns, a series of exotic locations, and perhaps some love interest too - when I thought of one of my favourite adventure stories, a novel which lacks almost all of the above ingredients. And yet Robinson Crusoe is undoubtedly one of the best adventure stories ever written.

So what is the perfect definition of an adventure story? Sitting with Daniel, Anthony and Andy, I didn't have access to Wikipedia, but if I had, I would have found a short entry on adventure which includes this lovely quote from Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

Ah, yes. Of course. How I wish I could have answered Daniel's question with a one-liner like that. It expresses the heart of the matter so perfectly. An adventure needn't involve brutal baddies, poisonous snakes, foaming rapids, vertiginous mountain trails or any other such perils; we can be adventurous simply in the way that we approach life.

It's not the plot or the situation that matters; it's the attitude of the person at the heart of them.

Those fictional adventurers whose characters and exploits I love best - Robinson Crusoe, Jim Hawkins, Richard Hannay, Rudolf Rassendyll, etc, etc - are united by their love of adventure, their eagerness to cast aside caution and throw themselves into the world.

My own Tom Trelawney, hero of The Sultan's Tigers, is no different. For him, "life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

Josh Lacey

Josh's new novel, The Sultan's Tigers, is published by Andersen.


Stroppy Author said...

How true - of people in the real world, as well as people in stories.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

I am in complete awe of anyone who can create an adventure plot. And Robinson Crusoe, wasn't that written in 1713 or something? 1713??!! Which if it was tells us that we shouldn't think we (these days) have the monopoly on plot.