The girl knew it was there. She knew in her bones, even though everyone else dismissed it, told her she had an overactive imagination, that monsters were only pretend.
That was why she always checked the wardrobe, even after her mother had put her head right in, and made sure that the door was really shut.
That was why she took a deep breath and looked under the bed as her father knelt with her, face against the carpet, and shone the torch around before he tucked her in.
That was why she peered behind the curtains and why she pleaded for light; to have the hall light on, the nightlight on, the bedroom door open. They agreed, yet she knew it made little difference in the end.
The shadows were patient, you see. The shadows waited until her parents turned off the hall light and went to bed.
Darkness terrified her but, in fact, the semi darkness was worse. The streetlight outside her window cast a fuggy dimness through the curtains. She would watch the shadows slip across the ceiling and slither down the wall, sharpened by the nightlight, a growing, writhing mass that she thought would swallow her whole. When she closed her eyes against them, she was sure she heard the creak of the wardrobe door and something crossing the room. She lay rigid and still, trying to give no indication that she was there, living, breathing prey, waiting to feel the hot breath of the monster as it snouted around her.
She counted until she could no longer bear it. Then she hid beneath the duvet and told herself stories to fend off the terror.
Every night. For years.
Until she was old enough to convince herself that monsters really didn’t exist. Well, not that kind anyway.
She stopped checking behind the curtains and in the wardrobe. She learned to sleep with the light off.
But she was still scared of shadows. And the ones that had gathered under her bed, well, there were almost enough of them now. In the wardrobe, something was stirring.
It was on the doorstep when Cinderella and Snow White got home from lectures, no card, no note. Cinderella took it inside, despite Snow White’s misgivings, and set it on the table in the kitchen diner.
An apple. Perfectly formed, with deep red skin that glistened like a ruby. It rested on a small wooden platter beneath a glass dome.
Cinderella’s fingers danced on top of the glass. It was so tempting.
“Don’t.” Snow White had deliberately stayed on the other side of the kitchen. “You don’t know where it’s come from. It’s just weird, leaving it like that. We should throw it away.”
Snow White hated apples. They made her choke.
Rapunzel looked up from the sofa. A book, as usual, lay open on her lap. She watched Cinderella’s long fingers curl round the handle of the dome.
“Don’t be daft Snow,” Cinderella said as she lifted the glass. A heady scent swirled through the room. “It smells gorgeous. What do you think Rapunzel? Schrodinger’s apple? Poisoned AND not poisoned?”
“There lies the conundrum.” Rapunzel pretended to be nonchalant. She tried to ignore the strange gift. It stirred melancholy within her; it reminded her of…
Cinderella plucked the apple from its platter, holding it up to the light just as Alice wandered in from the back garden. She’d been trying yet again to fix a hole under the fence where next door’s rabbit kept getting through.
“What’s that?” she asked as she added her mug to the line.
“A gift,” said Cinderella.
“A curse,” said Snow White. “But she won’t listen to me.”
Alice examined the apple in Cinderella’s hand. She was wary of food with no provenance. She had been caught out before. Badly.
“I wouldn’t eat it if I were you,” she said. “Don’t know if I’d even have touched it. You need to be careful with these things.”
“THANK you.” Snow White distributed the mugs, then sat by Rapunzel.
Cinderella turned it this way and that. It shone. It was the most wondrous apple any of them had ever seen, rounded and luscious, full of promise.
Rapunzel sipped her coffee, kept sipping even though it burned her tongue. Anything to block that pervading scent, the bitter sadness it awakened.
“Really. What harm could it do?” The apple drifted closer to Cinderella’s lips.
“I’m sure Eve said the same thing,” Snow White said. “It could kill you, is what.”
“Don’t Ella, really,” Alice added. “Who leaves apples on doorsteps anyway? It’s beyond curious.”
“But it smells soooo good.”
Alice took the apple gingerly by the stalk and put it back on its wooden plate. She clapped the glass dome over it and placed it up on the windowsill. The tantalising fragrance disappeared immediately.
But not for Rapunzel. It was in her bones now, her blood, in the tears that burned behind her eyes. He’d always brought her apples. He knew how she loved them.
“We need to get moving,” Alice continued. “We’re supposed to be at Dorothy’s in an hour. Don’t want to be late.”
“You coming out tonight, Rapunzel?” Snow White asked. Rapunzel shook her head.
“Essay due on Monday,” she said. “No time.”
“You work too hard,” said Cinderella. “Live a little. It’s just one night.”
“Might do you good,” Snow White added. “It’s been a while.”
They didn’t understand. How could they, with all those happy endings.
Later, as the front door closed, Rapunzel stood in front of the mirror, curling a strand of hair round her finger. It was short now, chin length. She’d had it cut when he’d left her. The scent of the apple reached up from the kitchen, curling and twisting through her memories.
How he had been a prince amongst frogs.
How perfect they had been together.
How he had led her out of her turret into the light.
How she had taught him to love books.
How his eyesight had begun to fail.
How the headaches had got worse.
How he had changed, become harsh and unkind.
How the doctors had found the tumour.
How he had left her, refused her support, discarded her love.
He was still out there. She’d heard that treatment had been successful. But he wouldn’t take her calls, reply to her messages.
She still loved him. He didn’t love her.
She had climbed back into her tower and she was the one who had fallen to break, spectacularly, on the ground.
Bitterness tainted her tongue. She was tired of feeling stuck. Change was possible, she knew that. The strange gift proved it.
Rapunzel left her room and went down to the kitchen. The apple beckoned from the windowsill and without hesitation she freed it from its prison. Then, standing by the window, watching next door’s rabbit hopping through the daisies on their lawn, she opened her mouth and took a great big bite.
See the little cottage in the clearing ahead. That is where we will take our repose tonight. We have walked for many hours; you are hungry and need to rest.
“Who lives here?” you ask.
No one now, but it is a place of welcome. You will find whatever it is you need. Food, drink, warmth. A bed to sleep in. Comfort and healing for everything from a broken heart to a wound of the flesh. See, there are lanterns lit in the windows. It is all ready for you.
How did they know you would come when you did not know yourself? Well, that is the magic; it is not to be questioned, just accepted with gratitude. Try the door. It is not locked.
The table is laid for us and the fire is dancing in the grate. Come. Sit and I will tell you how this cottage became enchanted.
Once upon a time, long ago and far away, a great king lived in a beautiful castle with his wife and their daughter. The land he ruled was peaceful and prosperous, for his greatness lay not in the battles he had won or the power and wealth he had accumulated but in his fairness, his honesty and his generosity. Merchants traded freely and fairly with the neighbouring realms. Farmers grew abundant crops and their livestock were healthy. Artisans and crafters flourished, creating both the practical and the beautiful. There was music and art, poetry and learning. People cared for each other and disputes were settled quickly and honourably.
Often the King would ride out amongst his subjects to share with them their fortunes good and bad. The Queen and the Princess rode by his side. As the Princess grew up, she learned justice and government from her father and healing from her mother. She knew herself to be truly privileged and wished only to become as good a leader as the King.
Now in that country there was a legend: that whosoever held the sacred jewels of wisdom, truth, justice and love was the true ruler of the realm, and that so long as the jewels were protected then so also was the land. The gems were kept safely within the castle. The sapphire of wisdom, the diamond of truth and the emerald of justice were set into the crown that the King wore during state business; the ruby of love was deemed so precious that it was kept in a secret hiding place.
Some had tried to take the jewels, by theft or by force, but none had ever succeeded.
Years passed. But In the shadowy forest at the northern edge of the kingdom, a dark force was growing, cloaked by malevolent magic. There lived a powerful sorceress, whose greed and hatred knew no bounds. All she saw she needed to possess; the wealth and abundance of the realm had drawn her to it and the jewels were her heart’s desire. So she plotted and planned and conjured all manner of evil to do her bidding. She sowed seeds of destruction and discord throughout the region; a fight here, a failed crop there, food spoiled in a tavern kitchen, missing coins from the notary’s pouch. Whispers of plagues and rumours of war spread and festered, making the people fearful and angry. They began to doubt the King’s integrity and to question his leadership. Into this cauldron of distrust the sorceress poured false promises of a better way, a new leader to protect them.
The King tried to reassure his subjects but he did not know what he was fighting. Turmoil and trouble grew until, at the state celebration of the Princess’s seventeenth birthday, the sorceress swept into the castle with her legions and claimed it for her own. The King was cut down instantly, and a spell cast on all present, immobilising them.
“Where are the jewels?” she demanded of the Queen, but the Queen would say nothing save “They are all here.”
So the sorceress had her minions ransack the castle and they returned triumphantly with the crown. Setting it upon her head, she seated herself upon the throne, saying “I am truly the Queen now, and you will kneel to me or die.”
With that she cast another spell; the guests knelt before her, whether or not they wished to. They found themselves back in their homes, still on their knees.
The Queen and the Princess stood, unable to fight the evil magic.
“Where is the last jewel?” the sorceress asked, but the Queen refused to speak. “Very well. You will pay for your stubbornness. Cast her into the dungeon with the brat.” She walked over to the Queen, spoke just before the guards dragged her away. “It will not stay hidden for long. You will tell me. She,” she indicated the Princess, “will make sure of it.”
The two women were bundled away by the guards and dragged down into the dungeon. It was dark and empty – it had not seen a prisoner for years. One guard lifted a set of rusty keys from a nail in the wall while the others cast them into a cell. The door clanged shut and the footsteps faded away.
Tears blurred the Princess’s vision. Her mother took her by the shoulders. “They will be back soon,” she said. “When they have searched again and failed to find the ruby. You must not be here when they return. I fear what she may do to you.” The Princess opened her mouth to speak but the Queen hurried on. “I have a charm. It will create a door for you to escape through. You will have to hide who you are but at least you will be safe. One day you will return. I know this.”
“You must come with me,” the Princess said desperately but here mother shook her head. She reached into her pocket and drew out a silver pencil. Holding it momentarily over her heart, she used it to draw a rectangle on the thick stone wall. A door appeared, light glimmering round its edges.
“Open it,” the Queen instructed and her daughter obeyed. On the other side was a room.
“I cannot come with you,” the Queen continued. “Only one may pass.” She embraced her daughter. “Be safe, my darling. May we meet again.” Then she pushed the Princess gently through the door. As soon as she was on the other side, the opening vanished and the wall became stone once more.
Thus the Princess found herself in a tiny cottage in the woods on the border of the kingdom. (This cottage). Scared and alone, she had little choice but to try and make a home there and learn to live off the land. She remembered watching farmers planting seeds and bakers baking bread, how the seamstresses sewed clothes and the maids lit the fires in the hearths. She recalled the knowledge she had gained from her parents and from all those who had lived and worked around her. Though her heart was well and truly broken, she would not give up.
As days became weeks and weeks became months, she began to carve out a new life, simple and quiet. She planted a garden and grew food and the healing herbs her mother had taught her. She collected fallen wood for her fire and water from the stream. Sometimes she would walk through the wood and onto the road, following it to the village nearby where she exchanged vegetables for bread, flowers for cloth, kindling for sugar and salt. She offered healing for those that needed it, balms, tinctures, liniments and syrups. These she gave freely.
“This is the gift my mother gave to me,” she would say. “A gift that I can pass on to you.”
But she noticed the change. A deep sadness covered the land like a blanket. The sun struggled to shine and the stars were dull in the heavens. Gales whipped the air and the rains were heavy. It was as if the very skies wept.
As one year became two and then three the people struggled more and more. There was little music or poetry. Smiles were rare, laughter rarer still. The new Queen, angry that she had not yet found the last jewel, ruled with an iron rod. Her guards searched constantly, leaving terror in their wake. She demanded tithes and tributes from everyone, even those who could not afford it. Fields became fallow, livestock sickly. Flowers would not bloom and children could not play. The Princess grieved for her parents and her beautiful country as she continued to offer healing for those in need. Her garden, somehow, seemed unaffected by the blight that cursed the rest of the land.
Word of her abilities and her kindness spread. People came from further and further away to seek her skills. One day a woman knocked at her door, hooded and cloaked. The Princess ushered her in, thinking that she must be very afraid to need to stay so hidden. Once inside, the woman lowered her hood and the Princess recognised her mother’s maid.
“I have come to bring you home,” the maid said. “For you have grown into a wise and strong woman and your kingdom needs you.”
“What can I do against the wicked magic of the sorceress,” asked the Princess. “I don’t have the power to fight her.”
“You have more power than you think,” the woman said. “You are the heart of this land. That is why your garden grows when little else will. Why you still heal others when all around you people fight and steal. You are the reason that the sorceress cannot find the last jewel.”
“I don’t understand. Please, sit. Tell me first of my mother.”
“She still languishes in the dungeon. The sorceress was furious when she realised that you had escaped. She keeps your mother prisoner to taunt her. She still believes that eventually she will gain the location of the ruby.”
“I do not know where it is. How is it that I keep her from finding it?”
The maid smiled. “Because it is in your heart. Unlike the other gems, the ruby chooses its own guardian. It chose you. That is where your healing power comes from, the strongest magic of all. Love. And that is how you will defeat the sorceress. The wicked cannot survive in the light of pure love. Come back with me now. Save your people.”
The Princess was aghast but she did as she was asked. Fearful as she felt at the prospect of facing the sorceress, she longed to see her mother again and bring harmony back to the land. She was shocked as they travelled, by the bare fields and dried up rivers where before there had been a velvet patchwork of crops and softly flowing waters. There were few people on the roads now and many of the buildings were in a state of disrepair.
The castle however was as beautiful as she remembered it. She wrapped her cloak around her and pulled up the hood as she knocked on the door and asked for an audience with the sorceress.
“On what business?”
“I have information about the missing jewel.”
That got the guard’s attention. She was shown into a small anteroom while he scuttled off to announce her. Finally she was shown into the great hall where the sorceress sat on the wooden throne, the King’s crown on her head. She walked toward her, suddenly unafraid.
“Why do you not bow to me?” the sorceress demanded. “And why have you not bared your head in my presence? I am your Queen.”
The Princess stood in front of the dais in silence.
“Your audacity astounds me. I should hang you from the tower as a snack for the buzzards. Tell me where the jewel is or that is exactly what I will do.”
The Princess calmly lowered her hood and stared at her. A shock of recognition crossed the sorceress’s face.
“The jewel is here,” said the Princess placing her hand over her heart. “It has come home but it will never be yours.”
“We’ll see about that,” the sorceress shrieked. She rose, pulling from her robe a sharp black blade. “I will cut it out myself.”
But the Princess stood fast and light began to shine from all around and within her. It grew brighter and brighter and as it did, the sorceress grew smaller and more withered until finally she was nothing more than dust. The crown fell to the floor, Truth, Justice and Wisdom glowing brightly in the light of Love. Her guards were shocked into stillness, not sure quite what to do. The Princess picked up the crown and turned to them; they bowed deeply, in awe of the gentle strength that emanated from her.
“Please free my mother.”
The two women wept with joy as they were reunited. The Princess offered the Queen the crown.
“It is yours now,” said the Queen, “but I would be honoured to help you in any way I can.”
That is how the Princess began her next adventure, rebuilding the realm into the happy and prosperous place that it had been before. And this cottage is the legacy that she left behind, a place of welcome and of refuge, where anyone may come to find food, rest and safety.
So, now we should eat and take the chance to sleep. We still have a long way ahead of us.
Are you frightened? You do not need to fear me – I will not
harm you. Well… not unless you give me reason to. Threaten my family, my pack
and I will not be held responsible for my actions. Otherwise you go about your
business and I go about mine. Mutual respect.
You don’t say it but I see the question in your eyes. The
things you’ve heard about wolves. The stories that are told about us following
people, misleading people, carrying them off and tearing them limb from limb.
Tricksy, nefarious, dangerous wolves.
You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. I did not eat the grandmother or destroy the houses of the little pigs. As for the girl in the red cloak… I did not lure her from the path. She sought me out. She wanted things she could not have. She is dangerous, that one, a wild, dark spirit that should never have been contained in human form. But she wanted what she wanted and when I could not give it she wreaked vengeance not just on me but on my whole bloodline. Words have power you know. A rumour here, a story there, a pretty young girl with a sad face and a knife covered in her grandmother’s blood well hidden in her basket… no wonder the woodcutter was taken in.And the huntsman and the villagers and so many people since. Including you, it would seem.
What did she want, you ask? My skin. Not just to wear it, but to inhabit it. She wanted to oust me from my own body, to use it at will, become a shape shifter. She thought I had the power to make it so, that I would capitulate for one so young and pure and beautiful. But I cannot perform sorcery. I am just a wolf. A talking wolf, you make a fair point, but a wolf nonetheless. There are far stranger things than me in this forest. And even if I could, I am too fond of my own skin to give it up. So I snapped and snarled and eventually ran, her promise ringing in my ears. That I would regret my choice. That my skin would be difficult to live in for ever more. And her lies have made it so. I am maligned, hated and hunted along with the rest of my kin.
You have heard of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The irony!
The girl, the innocent, who wanted to wear a wolf, just because she desired
more power, more control than her looks and her wiles gave her. What big eyes
she has. All the better to see you with. What a lovely smile she has. All the
better to lure you with. What a sweet voice she has. All the better to fool you
with. What a black heart she has. All the better to break you with. It’s her
you should run from, not me. She still roams these woods so be sure not to
stray from the path…
Here’s the sister piece to my last post. I know we’re well past the Solstice, but winter goes on. The cold and the dark can seem relentless so stay warm, find some time to enjoy the stillness and remember that below ground spring is gently stirring. .
I wrote this in 2016 but it seems just as relevant now. Given what’s been happening recently in terms of climate change awareness, I thought I’d share it. Perhaps there is some hope after all.
The apocalypse, when it came, took most people by surprise, even though it had long been predicted.
Well, people can be as selective with their science as they are
with their statistics, and we all know that you can make statistics say
whatever you like.
Plus the fact there were far more important things to think
about, like who was to blame for the refugee crisis and what colour lipstick
Kim Kardashian was wearing.
Anyway, it was quiet and gradual, the apocalypse, no
catastrophic events (hurricanes and earthquakes notwithstanding), no nuclear
war, no asteroid collision; an apocalypse by stealth if you will. Not enough
people paid attention until it was too late.
You see, times were troubled. People didn’t know what to believe
any more, so much fake news and political spin. The truth was in there
somewhere, but so well buried it couldn’t dig itself out. Opinions were the new
black and so opinions disguised as truth became the new truth and people
believed what they chose to, what fitted with their world view. It was more
comfortable that way than asking questions, looking beyond the reflection and
into the room.
So, as we are what we eat, people fed on a diet of fear, anger
and false assurances were more likely to worry about whether their neighbour of
years had become a terrorist than the extinction of countless little known
species of insect, and whether immigration was really the root of all evil
rather than the loss of the planet’s lungs to palm oil and cattle feed.
People everywhere were afraid but they didn’t know what they
were really afraid of. People were angry but they didn’t know exactly what they
were angry about. Fear and anger do not make good bedfellows. People turned
against their neighbours. Communities turned against each other. There was
squabbling and unrest, laws made and pacts broken, wars fought and blame cast.
And all the while the seas were rising and the weather was changing and the
ecosystems were breaking down.
But those in power were rich and getting richer while the
general populace was distracted, so that was OK. And those people that did
notice? The ones that did protest and make a fuss, march with their banners,
sign petitions and sit in fields day in, day out to protect the land? A minor
irritation, nothing that a negligent media and some juicy celebrity gossip
When the last rhino died, it didn’t even make the front pages.
The demise of the orangutans caused a bit more of a stir. ‘Very sad’ was the
general consensus on Twitter. The tigers, well, that was a shame, magnificent
animals but then again they do kill people so, you know. Maybe not such a loss…
It was the bees that finished it. There were warnings, many
warnings, but they were largely ignored. When they went, along with countless
other pollinators, the multi nationals finally realised that you can’t hand
pollinate enough food for seven billion people and chemicals alone won’t make
stuff grow. Shrinking land mass and changes in air quality didn’t help. And so
the apocalypse had arrived, a slow and painful demise of humanity and most
other life on the planet. There are very few of us left now, clinging on to
barely nothing. Soon we’ll be like the dinosaurs, history conserved in the
bones of the world.
And Earth? She’ll be all right. She’ll just start all over again…
I bought this beautiful card several years ago and it planted the seed for this little tale which is part of a collection I’m working on entitled Great Grandmother’s Tales From The Shore.
“We always collected things when we went to the beach, shells, stones, driftwood, bits of sea worn glass. Treasures from the deep, Great Grandma called them. Gifts from the sea. They all have a tale to tell, a secret history. You just have to open yourself to it.
I love the turret shells because they aren’t really shells at all. People only think they are because they’ve lost the ability to believe in anything that can’t be proved. And maybe they do get seconded by homeless invertebrates from time to time. Maybe the hermit crab isn’t the only thing in the sea that lives as a squatter. I don’t know. But I do know they’re not shells.
Because they’re horns.
See, when the white horses are first born out in the waves, they all have a horn, just the one, in the centre of their foreheads above their eyes. And to start with, they live out there amongst the rollers and the breakers, learning to trot and canter and gallop, to race the winds as they whip the surface, to swim in the deep blue as the sun turns it to gold.
But when they come of age, they reach the time of the calling. It is a choice that each and every one must make. They are drawn towards the shore and, in the in between, where the water changes colour as the earth rises beneath it, they must decide whether to stay in the sea or forge a new path on the land.
Those that come ashore hide in forests and green places. We call them unicorns.
Those that remain behind lose their horns. They stay and play out in the open water. We only see them as white caps on the waves.
The horns become houses for little shellfish. Or mementos picked up on a day at the beach.
There are less of them now. Far less than when I was a child. I wonder why that might be.”
Her cry had us all running from wherever we were, the kitchen, the barn, the vegetable garden, the hen house, running up the pocked, rough track that served as a driveway to the wide wooden gate.
“Look, look,” she was calling, pointing upwards with both hands at once. “They’re really here. At last.”
I stopped and squinted into the sky, the brightness hurting my eyes after the dimness of the barn. Occasional ribbons of white cloud broke the aching blue, straggling across it with no urgency whatsoever. The tops of the trees were utterly still, not a whisper of a breeze to stir them. The grass was dry and brown, the dust heavy on the track and the road beyond. It had been like this for days. As if the world was holding its breath, just waiting for them.
It was said around these parts that if the swallows didn’t come, then the summer rains wouldn’t be able to follow them. And then the fields would be dry and the crops would fail and the land would remain fallow until they returned. Old wives’ tale? Superstition? Maybe. But no more than wassailing in the orchards at the start of winter to honour the trees and ensure the next year’s crop. No more than the elders knowing what weather brewed from the exact shade of the sunset.
We watched as they flew in, swooping and gliding low over the road then looping up over our heads and swinging away to make another pass. Their wings flittered tirelessly despite the many miles they had covered and they swirled and spun in a joyful frenzy, sometimes stopping momentarily at the stream to drink before taking off again. We watched, entranced, until they began to settle, finding the nooks and crannies around the house and barn that were their home from home. Then, as one, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the leaves on the trees began to stir and the clouds scudded faster across the sky.
“It’ll be all right now,” Pa said. “It’ll all be all right.”
Yes it is, and in celebration of all things literary I thought I’d share some of my favourite books. Please do add your favourites in the comments; I’m always on the lookout for a good read!
Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint. Anything by Charles de Lint really, he’s exceptionally talented, but this particular one is a collection of urban fantasy short stories and is my go to book for comfort when I’m feeling in need.
Green Angel by Alice Hoffman. She writes exquisitely and this novella is particularly haunting.
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Full of extraordinary desert magic, you can almost feel the heat rising from the pages. I love this so much I have two copies (one for lending, the other for me!)
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This is a children’s book but don’t let that stop you; the lyrical prose and intriguing story will leave you thinking.
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. You will never take the letters of the alphabet for granted again.
Skellig by David Almond. A beautifully wrought modern fairy tale.
The Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith. Funny, unexpected and uplifting.
The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in South Carolina in the sixties, it’s a sensitive coming of age tale.
Julie And Romeo by Jeanne Ray. A romance like no other and very funny to boot.
Anne of Green Gablesby L. M. Montgomery. I adored this when I was a kid and still do now.
Guess I’d better stop now. There are just so many great books out there; happy reading!
You can get a bit lost in writing a book; it’s a long process and quite isolated too. You spend a lot of time with your characters, immersed in their world. Sometimes the real world is a welcome relief, sometimes it’s an irritating distraction. At times it can seem quite distant. The story grows and develops; it follows you even when you’re not actually writing. Your protagonists and antagonists feed you information, not always at the most opportune moments (mine often decide that the best time to tell me something vital is when I’m driving, usually with nowhere I can pull over to scribble it down). It’s as if you’re living in two different realms at the same time, each as tangible as the other.
You try hard to get the writing right, to let the characters have their say but also to keep the story flowing the way it should be. You cheer when it goes well and the words pour from your fingertips; you groan, procrastinate and drink far too much tea when the plot sticks or your characters decide to go off and do their own thing without telling you. And they do do that. Without so much as a ‘by your leave’ and then you find that they’ve changed the timeline or reconfigured the plot without so much as even conferring with you or asking what you think. Well, why should they? You’re only the author after all.
Eventually, eventually you get to the end.
Of the first draft.
But that’s not the end as a writer. Because the first draft is the basis but it always needs lots of work; editing and reworking paragraphs and dialogue, adjusting timeline inconsistencies, ensuring continuity of all sorts of things from the colour of people’s eyes to who has a dog and who likes what music. And then there are the typos and the grammatical errors and the repetition of words and phrases that need to be corrected.
So you plough through again, rewriting, amending, tightening up the prose and getting it closer to how you know it needs to be. And when you’ve finished the second draft, you go through it all again a third time, just to make sure.
You’d think that’d be it then, wouldn’t you?
It’s usually when I’ve got to the end of the third draft that I ask my lovely band of pre-readers to read through it and feed back to me anything that doesn’t fit right or hold true, anything that seems superfluous or out of place, anything that they think needs altered or adjusted. With these invaluable critiques it’s time for – you’ve guessed it – draft number four.
By the end of the fourth draft, hopefully the manuscript is as near finished as possible and as good as it’s going to get. This is usually the point where, having been living and breathing it for however long and having read and reread the story countless times, I usually think “This is complete and utter rubbish. Why did I bother? I might as well just dump it in the recycling bin and do everyone a favour.”
At that point I know it’s time to consign draft four to my virtual drawer and ignore it for a month or two. When I come back to it, it’s usually not as bad as I’d thought. Usually needs a few tweaks but generally it’s OK.
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