The Big Idea: David Quantick
You have to hand it to David Quantick: He took a wild idea, and then, as the kids used to say, let his fingers do the walking (on the keyboard. I’m sorry. I will stop with the puns now). In this Big Idea, learn how the author finally got the idea for Ricky’s Hand out of his head, and onto the pages.
It was the oldest idea I had, but it wouldn’t go away. Like a zombie that was also an idea, the thing that should have died years ago along with all the other unsuccesful ideas for books and scripts was still out there, occasionally rearing up at me and trying to sink its teeth into my throat. But where the other ideas eventually retreated back into the basement, hissing themselves back into vapour, this one refused to go away: one day a man wakes up with someone else’s hand.
I liked the idea, which may have been inspired by me waking up with a hangover and looking at my hand like it was an interloper, but I didn’t know what to do next. If it wasn’t the hero’s hand, whose was it (I didn’t know)? Why was it someone else’s hand (no idea)? How is having someone else’s hand a story (it isn’t)? And so on. So the years went by and I left the idea alone. I wrote comedy scripts for British TV and novels that nobody wanted to publish and more scripts but the idea kept coming back, one eye rolling around on its cheek I pitched it to a British scifi comic book, and even wrote a synopsis, but they turned it down. It was time to take a hint, and I would have done but by now my books were being published and some of them were science fiction or horror or even both.
It occurred to me that the idea might have finally found its time so I started planning it. This time, with the experience of both acceptance and rejection, I felt almost confident that I could make a decent story of it. I worked out whose hand it was. I worked out why it was someone else’s hand. And I realised what the story might be. Best of all, I had evolved a technique to help me write: pretending the novel was by someone else, which seems apt for the subject of this book.
I’d written my first published novel, All My Colors, as a tribute to Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s seedier alter ego, even setting it in a King-appropriate 1970s. It had worked, and my attempts to pastiche “Bachman” and his era had freed me mentally to be more psychotic and tasteless as a writer. This time round, I decided my main character, the guy with someone else’s hand, would be based in Florida, a state I’d visited a few times, and he’d be a paparazzo in South Beach. Once this setting had been decided on, the next step was clear: my favourite author of Florida fiction is Carl Hiassen – Hiassen even sharing this book’s obsession with messed-up limbs. So the new book would be racy and comedic like a Carl Hiassen novel, with bursts of sick violence and dark laughs.
I had a world, I had a story, and now all I needed was a title. Most of my books take their names from song titles – All My Colors, Night Train, Sparks, Go West and even The Mule (maybe the only novel named after a drum solo) – so I thought of songs about hands. The obvious candidate was Fad Gadget’s astonishing early electro horror 45, Ricky’s Hand, about a man who loses a hand in an industrial accident. If I called my protagonist Ricky…
Everything was in place. The actual writing, which took about three months, was intense and seemingly relentless: it was as if I could only cope with the insanity of the story by not thinking about it as I hammered out the chapters. And then, a few weeks later, it was done. An idea that I’d had in my mid-20s had somehow survived until the next millennium, crept up behind me, and infiltrated my brains (or brainzzz).
Ricky’s Hand, boys and girls. I hope you like it.