An author guest blog by Chris Quinton.
GAME ON, GAME OVER happened because of cats. And Avebury, but mostly cats. Many years previously, the fur balls were a ‘thing’ in the fan fiction I was reading at the time. All of them were cutesy, fluffy, adorable, and they charmed the heroes with their irresistible appeal – well, you get the picture.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for the feline kind, canids and equines as well, but I wanted something more than the saccharine sweetness of those stories, and none were to be found. So I decided to write my own.
My cat wasn’t cute. Wasn’t fluffy, either, regardless of what some poor deluded human had named him way back when he was a kitten. Though in all honesty, he probably had been appealing back then, the way all kittens are, no matter what they grow into. This one grew into an autocratic, battle-scarred and cynical tom, based on a rather large ginger and white individual I saw in the courtyard of the Red Lion, Avebury’s pub. The humans he interacted with were fleshed around two characters from a TV series. Yes, I wrote fanfiction and I make no apologies for it: fanfic got me through some difficult times in my life.
I didn’t use the characters’ screen names in the original story, as Aidan was very good at creating new identities, had gone into solitary ‘retirement’ in the sleepy little village in the heart of Wiltshire, and was determined to stay there. Scott was as determined to forge a relationship with him. And TBC, aka That Bloody Cat, merely wanted to live in his old home again.
The setting of Avebury reflected my love and fascination with the place, and its unique archaeological history. Then there are its ghost stories: the barber-surgeon, Florrie the Barmaid, the ghostly coach to name but a few.
Some time later, when I’d had a few titles published, I remembered that decades-old fanfic. Other than a few mentions of their shared past and their physical appearances, there was nothing at all to show its original inspiration, not even their names. So I began to put together a new backstory for them. To misquote a soccer commentator, it would be a tale of two halves, and the new title was a natural choice: Game On (where and how they met and parted), Game Over (where and how they got together again and reached their HEA).
I’d recently read a fascinating article on the Silk Road, and anyone who knows me, knows how I am addicted to archaeology. Add in the political situation of the area, plus a hint of Kipling’s Great Game, and I had the first part nailed. Aidan Whittaker would be an MI6 agent, undercover at an archaeological dig in Tajikistan, near the border with Pakistan. Scott Landon was a photographer tagging along behind a journalist, and we all know how much trouble a determined newshound can get into without really trying.
The second part would be entirely different in pace and setting from Part One, and its setting was Avebury. Thanks to family and friends prepared to drive me to one of my favourite places in England, I already had a large folder full of photos, but I wanted more of specific areas. This time, though, no one with a car was available, so I resorted to the buses. Getting to Avebury by public transport wasn’t easy, involved changes, and took forever. I had only a limited time before the return trip. So I chose the field where the pair of fictional cottages would sit, took many photos up and down the street, and had just enough time for a sandwich and a cuppa at the Red Lion before I caught the only bus back to where I could pick up the return bus to Salisbury.
Incidentally, the weather was glorious. Few things can beat summer sunshine in a tiny English village with thatched cottages and an excellent pub.
Above, I said I was addicted to archaeology – that isn’t an understatement. In Game On, Game Over, when Scott asks Archaeologist Aidan, ‘Why?’ his answer is as much from my heart as Aidan’s.
“… But you, these kids, you’re out here in a strange land, living in tents with basic amenities, no real freedom to come and go, watched over every now and then by the army. Just to dig holes in the ground. Why? What’s the point of it?”
“Why?” John rounded on him ferociously, taking Scott’s breath away. “Do you think we live in a vacuum? That present and future are the be-all and end-all of two-dimensional lives? The point is, Mr Landon, you, me, those postgraduates, the lecturers, the cooks and drivers, are linked to the past as surely as we are to the present. We are no different to the people who travelled the Roads and stayed in the caravanserai. We are no different from the Roman soldier on Hadrian’s Wall who wrote home to his mother asking her to send him more socks. And yes, before you ask, he’s genuine. Every minute fragment of the past found in excavations enriches the present. Every translation of newly discovered writing expands our knowledge and strengthens the links to our past. Human nature has changed very little in the millennia we’ve walked upright, and we’re faced with the same choices today as our ancestors were. The only differences now are our enhanced abilities to create and destroy.”
So, yeah, that’s my one and only ‘Mary-Sue’ time (apart from that one I wrote when I was fourteen, starring me and Elvis…). Come on, I was fourteen, for the gods’ sake…