‘Is there anything that’s puzzled you? Something you’ve never been able to find an answer for?’
This simple question prompts insecure teenager Levi Hardy to step through a curious door in an ancient abbey. From there he goes on an astonishing journey. A journey to a distant land; a land in peril. A land where he must forget all that he knows in order to deal with his bizarre new surroundings. Befriended by a kindly community, he will be forced to rapidly learn new skills and call on hidden strengths if he is to provide them with much needed aid. For in the sleepy village of Skenmarris its small population is in immediate danger and in fear of their lives from a new and ruthless threat. But in providing vital assistance Levi must risk dire consequences, and quickly rise to his full potential if he is to survive the brutality of this strange and hostile world.
And so states the rear cover of my forthcoming novel ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. This story, like many other first novels I guess, has been fermenting a considerable amount of time before finally appearing in print. So much so that I’m sure its publication in January, 2016 will not only bring a sense of achievement but also one of release – like a weight off the mind – allowing me to move on to the next project.
I’ve already revealed elsewhere those things that have inspired the writing of this tale. They may be found on my blog page under the heading ‘Fifty Years in the Making’. However, there has been far more than just literary influences poured into each page. Every writing guide you care to imagine counsels authors to ‘write what you know’. Whilst this suggestion is open-ended I believe the emphasis is on experience and emotions. There are, therefore, many examples where this ‘outpouring’ occurs in my book. Here I’ll reveal two, in which my main characters describe elements of their lives that have bearing on the events taking place in the tale. The voices are those of my characters; the experiences and emotions are mine.
In the first, the protagonist, Levi, explains his sorrow at having to kill an enemy:
Levi stopped and turned to his sister.
‘I suppose Deepdale told you I killed someone – back in the marsh.’ Poppy shook her head. She was about to reply when Levi continued. ‘It was horrible. Didn’t have time to think on it then – but it’s bugged me since.’
‘You probably had good cause,’ Poppy replied lamely, unable to think of the right words that would console her brother.
Levi stared out at the small field adjoining the woods. Several yards away, in the midst of the field, four badgers hunched over their hoes, singing as they weeded between neat rows of bright green shoots. The words of their song were indistinct, snatched away by the breeze.
‘Remember last time we visited Aunt Eve up in Northumberland?’ said Levi, turning back to his sister. ‘You and Dad stayed inside while I went out into the yard. A cat had caught a robin – it was playing with it, the hateful creature. Tossing it and bowling the poor thing over and over. I chased the stinkin’ cat away. But the robin lay there, its feathers all ragged like. One wing was broken. A tiny drop of blood oozed from one of its nostrils – I’d never noticed birds’ nostrils ‘til then.’
Poppy watched sadly as tears pooled in the bottom of her brother’s eyes. But she knew she couldn’t interrupt him – felt this was something he had to say.
‘The bird was done for – I could tell that,’ continued Levi. ‘But I couldn’t leave it, see? So I fetched a brick. A big house brick, the ones with three holes in. And as I brought it down as hard as I could onto the robin, it squeaked – really loud. Louder than any noise you’d expect a little bird to make.’
‘But you had to do it,’ said Poppy, reaching for his hand. ‘“Cruel to be kind,” some might say.’
‘But I can still hear that squeak. I heard it when I killed the mink – oh, he died without a sound, but as he slid into the swamp it was the poor robin’s cry that filled my whole head.’
There was nothing Poppy could say that might cheer her brother. She wanted to tell him that he had no choice – with either the robin or the mink. One had been an act of kindness, while the other was self-defence. While the statement would be true she knew it wouldn’t serve to pull Levi from his anguish. Instead, she plucked a handkerchief from her smock pocket and handed it to him.
It was I that killed the robin when I, too, was a young teenager and yes, it did squeak. It was one of those life-events that burns onto the memory. It is experiences such as this that provide an author with a near endless source of material and is the true interpretation of the ‘write what you know’ principle. In the second example, Levi’s sister, Poppy, gives comfort to one of the villagers. Here again I called on my own experience in creating the scene:
Despite the poor light, Levi saw the old badger tremble with passion.
‘Now listen, young fuff-feller,’ said Bullyrag, addressing the brawny blacksmith. ‘First thing I did here were buh-bury me old mum – even afore I huh-had a roof o’er my head. And I’m not leavin’ her.’
Poppy had heard enough. She stepped determinedly into the hall.
‘Leave it, Pop,’ said Levi as he made a vain grab for her arm.
Undeterred, Poppy sauntered over to Bullyrag, her ponytail switching. The old badger’s eyes were frosted with tears as Poppy gently laid a hand on Bullyrag’s chest. An expectant hush filled the hall.
‘This is where your mum is,’ she said. ‘In your heart. Not some cold old grave in a garden.’ She lifted her free hand to her own chest. ‘My mum’s in here, too,’ she added, with a wobble in her voice.
Levi swallowed, trying to free the lump that had suddenly risen to his throat.
These then are a couple of tasters from the story. Whilst I did search for the door that inspired the tale, I have no experience of travel to another dimension, nor in fighting four-foot tall polecats armed with swords. However, I have been able to call on a well-spring of life-knowledge and emotional familiarity. These, together with imagination a-plenty have been the resources for this, my first novel. I don’t believe the tale to be autobiographical in any way, but a fiction writer cannot fail but to impart even a hint of him – or her-self onto the pages. Consequently I’m unable to read this tale without feeling the same sentiments as my characters. I hope that my readers will be able to relate to the story in the same way.