It got me wondering about how life, even on a subconscious level, has influenced my stories in such a profound way. Some people have asked if Elena is based on me. and while there are certain elements of me in her, she really is her own person. It is part of the beauty of writing: that you can take an idea, a seed if you will, and allow it to germinate into magic.
I’ve been battling some serious writer’s block with the rewrite of Under Ten Thousand Stars so think it’s time for some drastic action. I’m planning a road trip with one of my best friends to do a little more research, just the two of us, the open road, and enough snacks to last a nuclear winter. This story is also set in another fictional town, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of Hanging Rock if you were to look. From experience, the best way for me to get inspired is to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, because it is while you’re living life that ideas come. Of course, they don’t usually take decades, as in the case of the setting for Elena’s home, but I know that nothing happens before the right time. Not the story of a fight for love in a sleepy little town. Nor its breath-taking setting. And not the least, the courage to face up to a long-held childhood fear and turn it into something wonderful.
The Bay of Shadows is available now.
I confess, however, to some residual chicken-ness, because once the idea for a woman and child living in a rambling old house starting taking shape I knew I had to go back there for further ‘research’. There was simply no other way. I pride myself on my exhaustive research, and by ‘exhaustive’ I mean I was exhausted by the time I got to the top of the hill. Somehow I didn’t remember it being this far up. It was like the longest dirt track in the history of dirt tracks. But there was no way I could write authentically without going to the gate and standing there to take in the memory, distorted by the passage of time and some serious overgrowth. And when I got there the first thing I did was look up at the windows. Perhaps to see if the woman was still there, waiting for her lover to return.
In my last post I talked about the editing I’d been doing on a previous manuscript, but it got me thinking that perhaps I was getting ahead of myself since the current novel has only been out for about 35 seconds and the metaphorical ink is barely dry. So I decided to get back to the topic at hand. And how best to do that? By retracing my footsteps, quite literally, along the path that led me to write The Bay of Shadows. Indeed, it was an actual path that only the locals knew about, and the stuff of lore. Well, at least in primary school where we all dared each other to go up there, alone. “What are ya? Chicken?” The reward was a Sunny Boy, a fleeting glory but, nevertheless, to a six year old high stakes indeed. Potholed and littered with rocks, it wended up to a ramshackle gate, and beyond that an overgrown garden and a very spooky old house. According to myth, the woman – dressed all in black – was rumoured to fix you with her haunted gaze should your eyes dare meet. I never managed more than a fleeting glimpse, but my friends assured me they’d seen her. The imagination is a curious thing because three decades later that house would become the inspiration for Elena and Daniel’s home.
Alone on the track, I snuck up to the gate and took a few photographs, hoping that if there was someone in residence they wouldn’t see me loitering. It was probably a good few months later, while looking at those pictures, that I started to get a really clear idea of the story I wanted to tell: a recently divorced woman living with her foster child and their little dog in her ex-husband’s old house. Well, there’s a scenario where nothing could possibly go wrong! The house in the novel, much like the fictional Sullivan’s Landing, became almost like a character of its own, infused with the characteristics of this old place but separate, unique. A living breathing thing.
In 1918, at the tail end of the Great War, a woman stood by a window in a rambling old house, staring out at a sparkling sea, watching for any sign of her beloved coming home from war. Not knowing his fate, or if and when he might return, she waited and waited. And waited. (Of course, I have to intercede at this point because if she was actually in with any chance of seeing him she’d probably be best to stand by the front door since he'd more than likely be coming by road.) But dubious plot holes aside, as all magnificent stories go, this one from my childhood was a beauty.
"It is the beauty of writing: that you can take an idea,
a seed if you will, and allow it to germinate into magic."
MADE IN PIXEL TOGETHER