Whence Weed?

Rejected draft Weed cover

A very obvious first draft for the cover of Weed — abandoned. Design by Chris Page

Funnily enough, I was stoned out of my mind when the idea for the Weed story began to inhabit me.

When I say I was stoned, I mean I was quite profoundly stoned. I was nearly as stoned as the character Robert D Weed in the opening scenes of the story. Or I should say Weed is as stoned in the story as I was that night, though he is doing better than me, having consumed some very magic puff.

I have to be careful what I say about where in the world I was on this night because some authorities are a bit funny about people relaxing in ways that are not officially prescribed. Let’s just say this was long time ago in a galaxy that was, like, far, far out, man.

I have never had much physical tolerance for the stuff and this was my first smoke in a few years so the pot really did its job on me. I had been tense and uptight for quite some time and I felt myself relax like I hadn’t I ever relaxed before. See the description of Weed’s deeply comfortable state in the story for just how I felt that night — and just like Weed, I was in a flat, high up in a concrete block overlooking a very modern city with a brutally jagged topography. Just as in the story, there were police sirens and there was an elevated railway and an elevated motorway zoomed by the windows of my flat.

So, I smoked, and let go and sprawled on my living room table. I don’t think I had the rigidity to support myself on my elbows. It was like this that the main images of the story came to me and I wanted to write notes, I wanted to get it down to capture the mood but I was incapable of holding a pen or of making sentences. The next day all I had was a page of notepaper covered in squiggles and zigzags and cartoon faces whose eyes and ears and mouth and nose had all come adrift and were floating off in different directions. But I had achieved one legible phrase and here it is: “My umbrageous little sausage tree.” And that phrase, used twice in the final draft of the story, was enough for me to recapture the feelings of the night before and that was the core of Weed, the novel.

I didn’t sit down to write a novel. I was still waiting for the right idea to come along, one I could really throw myself at and in those days I was writing short stories to fill in time. (The Freebie came about in the same period.) I thought Weed was going to be a facetious throwaway short story, a quick two fingers at the world — perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 words when finished. However, appropriate to its name it went on growing and growing and growing. a few years later when I actually bought a computer and set to typing up what I had so far, I realized that I had 20,000 words and at that point I was about a quarter of the way through the story. It was only then that I realized that I had a novel on my hands and set to finishing it properly. The previous few years of desultory occasional scribbling on the story became a single-minded rush to get it all down.

I was so happy the night I realized Weed was a growing novel, I drank a couple litres of sake and played all my blur albums at full volume right through until about 3 or 4am, and kept the neighbours awake, as I discovered the next day.

From then on, I wrote on the train on the way to work, I scribbled in my lunch breaks, I bashed away at it days off and weekends. There were times I wrote standing on crowded trains just about resting my notebook on the back of the person in front of me. Despite this push, it still took an age to finish. Don’t ask me how long, I really don’t remember (these days, and with this dependence on red wine, time just sort of mooshes up into a homogenized and grey blob). It took a couple more years, I think, and then I continued editing while I was looking for an agent or a publisher. It seemed endless, no matter how much I wrote. But it was fun and the weed eventually flowered. Will it sow seeds?

So I suppose this is a moral tale: don’t muck around with soft drugs because they may lead to harder things, such as completed novels.

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About chrispagefiction

Author of the novels Sanctioned, Weed, King of the Undies World, and The Underpants Tree; also the story collection Un-Tall Tales; editor, freelance writer and all that stuff. At heart he is a London person, but the rest of his body is a long-term exile in Osaka, Japan.
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