So I’ve told you that I intend to write a short story for an anthology and that this is set in a cemetery where the gravestones whisper to a sorcerer-like character called Verdant. Also that the cemetery is situated just before his home. You also know that the last story I wrote was done so in a Lovecraftian style. Well, I’ve spent the past few days trying to make some decisions.
The first decision was the perspective. I did not want to write first person for this one. My last short story was narrated by a very pompous and narcissistic character. I wanted something a bit more neutral. Third person it is.
Time. Perhaps a year or so before the novel begins. After all, my last short story is set immediately after the novel finishes.
Also, I did not want to have Verdant as the protagonist. He already plays a major role in the novel. I do have a young girl – a child – who is a minor character in the novel. She is essentially a street waif caught up in an Oliver Twist style of existence. In my first draft of the novel I grew to like her but really could not use her much. So here is her chance.
As soon as I changed the protagonist suddenly the plot became apparent to me.Â But I will say no more about the actual plot. One thing though, the magic for me in my recent writing is how the stories spring forth with little prompting. I used to love reading, discovering the wondrous tales of adventures that writers wrought. Now I see that these stories can create themselves and so I love writing now more than reading.
As soon as I decided upon the protagonist then a few tones opened themselves up to me. The one that has the greatest impact upon meÂ is Lee Harper’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I remember the first day that I saw the orange and black cover of the penguin paperback edition of that novel. It was the end of the 1970s and we had it set for English class. Sydney was hot and humid in summer. The glass and brick of my classroom intensified this. We did not have air-conditioners in classrooms. Instead we just sat there on cheapÂ metal and woodÂ seats and sweated in summer, bent over our books.Â As I read the opening chapters, immediately the weather of the deep south of the USÂ resonated with me.
Moreover, the sense of history and of belonging as described by the narrator was something that I longed for. As I have said before, I was transported to Australia by my mother who wanted to escape my father. I felt like a displaced person for so many years of my youth. Yet here was a character whose ancestors had been in one place for generations. Someone who belonged! I wanted that to be me.
And so too the noble character of AtticusÂ tugged at me, for I had no father other than a lost and distant figure on the other side of the world. I dreamed that perhaps my father was like him, noble and intelligent. Later, when we were shown the Gregory Peck film, I really wanted a father like that.
But while that book spoke to me on a personal level,Â the social commentary was not lost. The sense of right and wrong truly resonated. There is so much in that book!
So yes, I decided that I would likeÂ to capture something of the tone of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Of course, I am writing a short story and not a novel. So I picked the tone of youthful innocence.
A scene then popped into my mind. One of my favourite films is “Big Fish” and in it there is aÂ point where three boys hide outside a witch’s house. They squabble and dare each other to steal the witch’s magic eye. I wonder whether I can borrow something of theÂ “feel” of that scene but make it my own.
So whereas “Tears of a Blue Priestess” channelledÂ the young man’sÂ chip on my shoulder,Â this story shall channel my childhood senses of loss, wonder and justice. And borrowÂ and transform aspects fromÂ those stories that have so impacted me. After all, we learn our craft from studying masters.
Now all I have to do is write it.