Saturday, 18 July 2015

Writing Scared

"Why a ghost story?" I hear you ask, but The Crowham Martyrs didn't start out as a ghost story.

As is usual for me, the book started with a character--a girl who is "dumped" by her mother at a rundown boarding school, The gothic setting--an isolated school, the surrounding forest, a quaint-but-sinister local village--were also in at the beginning, and lent themselves to a story that would be supernatural and scary.

So, I had a character, I had a setting, and the story came together like a sculpture consisting of fragile bits of paper and glue, pasted onto an equally flimsy skeleton that somehow held together and become stronger as each layer was slapped on and allowed to harder. Eventually, The Crowham Martyrs went beyond ghosts, and my main character, Maddy became bullied and battered by all manner of unseen and unfathomable forces...

Not just a ghost story, then...

But now that Crowham has been published, I've had time to think about why I wrote this particular story.

I don't generally set out to write in  a particular genre. In the case of my debut, At Yellow Lake, I was surprised when it was considered a thriller. I just needed a stronger story than my original idea, so added some bad guys...who turned out to be very, very bad indeed.  The same is true for Crowham. The sinister elements, which were weak at the start, grew in strength with every new draft (and there were many!) until they took on lives of their own and became powerful forces that threatened to overwhelm both my characters and myself!

That feeling--of being almost defeated by something that you can't comprehend and have no way to fight--is a good way to answer the "why a ghost story" question.

Obviously, that feeling fuels all knds of stories, but there's something about unseen dread that makes ghost stories so satisfying to read, so much fun to write...and so true to the reality of life, especially the lives of children and teens.

I was talking to my daughter and several of her friends recently, about how their lives have changed now that they're out of school and have studied and travelled and started jobs. They talked about experiences they'd had when younger: harmful relationships; threatening encounters; confusing, often destructive behaviour (their own and other people's).

These young women repeatedly used the same phrase--I just didn't know. 

Who I can trust or even believe? How do I solve the problem?  Where should I go for help?  What is real?  In The Crowham Martyrs, Maddy asks these questions, and I thought of her while listening to my daugher and her friends talk about situations that they could only make sense of in hindsight.

Growing up is scary enough for the comfortable and cared for, much more so for the abandoned or neglected.

So what are ghosts or demons or what little Jordan in Crowham calls fings?  What are they really?

They are what we can't see. What we don't understand. What we are powerless against.  

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