“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”
The Story Girl
Writer’s don’t spend much time in reality. We much prefer fairyland to than the everyday world. However, every now and then, fairyland collides with reality. Imagination finds ink. Inspiration explodes, sending sparks of ideas glittering through the darkness, and the result is what the world calls “A Story.”
I’ve been bringing stories to life with ink and paper since I was twelve. British history and literature have always been an inspiration. My first novel From the Flames was based in the life and events of John Wycliffe. My second novel, Dear Kate, was set in the 1600’s during the escape of the Puritans.
At the time I wrote them, I only dreamed of the places I wrote about, researching them as avidly as I could.
And after eight years of dreaming and researching, my dreams are coming to life before my eyes.
Scotland teems with history. It runs down the streets, nests in the clock towers, and curls up in the corners of forgotten book shops. Everywhere I turn, a new story is calling.
The other day I explored the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
As I walked through the corridors and vaulted halls, I could not escape the echoing voices of beloved characters.
I turned the corner and found myself face to face with a display that took my breath away.
Granted, these treasures are from a later century than the world in which I set Elizabeth Atlee. Suddenly, it was as if I had been transported from the museum in Glasgow, Scotland. I was tucked away in the back room of a medieval manor house in the year 1382. I stood like a shadow in the background, watching the conversation I had written in my first novel From the Flames:
Once Sybil Garret had shown me an instrument of her mother’s. It was polished and carved in the shape of an hourglass. She showed me how to hold it with the lower end tucked under my chin. She let me hold the bow, and taught me how to draw it across the strings. As I did, my heart raced. That beautiful sound had come from me, from my fingers. It moved and flowed with a will of its own. Sybil called it amazing, asking where I had learned. The truth was I hadn’t learned. I hadn’t even seen such an instrument before. Never would I forget the way she looked at me with her green eyes flashing. “Then it’s not just amazing,” she’d said. “It’s a gift from God.”
I hadn’t been able to stop the cold answer that spilled out of me. “Then I think God’s rather cruel for giving me a gift He forbids me to use.” I had known the day I played that it would be the first and last time. According to my uncle, the village priest, all music outside of the church was wicked. I tried to fight the melody that had come over me since then, but I could not. That day when the bow had come off of the strings the playing had ended forever, but the music was with me still.
-From the Flames
I looked at the display, able to picture Elizabeth reaching for the instrument, her simply brown dress contrasted against the finery of her wealthier friend. I could see the dirt beneath her fingernails as she pressed down the strings, and smiled at the way my characters had come to life.
As I pulled myself away from the display, I was once again stopped in my tracks.
A flintlock pistol was on display in a glass case. To anyone else it might have been an ancient gun from another century, but I knew better. I’d spent countless hours researching the flintlock, its design, its use in combat. Not just because of it’s historical value, but because it was a flintlock that first brought Jackson and Kate Elyot together in my novel, Dear Kate.
“A face appeared over the ship’s railing. The sailors all worked to help him onto the deck. His face looked familiar. He was tall and lank when standing, but dropped to his knees just after his feet hit the deck. He was hunched over an object in his arms. His sharp jawline shook with the cold. He was pale, his hollow cheeks a dull purple color. He laid the object in his arms on the deck in front him. He seemed desperate but unable to speak. I followed his gaze and saw the pale little face.
“Sh-she’s not breathing. Where’s Newman?”
I threw aside the heavy overcoat that was covering me and tried to drag myself forward. My limbs trembled and gave out. My cheek pressed against the cold, grimy deck. I watched the young sailor place a rough hand on the little golden head. There were tears in his eyes as he mouthed the word Emily.
She was so still, her lips a deadly blue. I had to get to her. Putting one hand in front of the other, I began to drag myself toward the little girl.
“Where is Newman?!” the young man shouted. He saw me out of the corner of his eye and everything gentle and compassionate about him vanished. His black eyes flashed with anger as he shouted at another sailor. “Keep her away!”
Hands gripped my arms, holding them behind my back and pulling me to my feet. The sailor’s grip was the only thing holding me up. Yet, even the vice-like grip trembled. I looked back to see that he was the same man who’d pulled me from the river. He too was shivering and dripping.
A man stepped through the gathering crowd, and knelt next to Emily. Removing his coat, he wrapped it around her. “We need to get her below!”
The young man scooped her up in his arms and tried to stand, but stumbled, nearly dropping her.
His friend bent down next to him. “Jack! You’re freezing. Give me the girl.”
His grip tightened on Emily.
“I need to get her warm,” his friend insisted.
The young man handed her over.
They were taking her away. No. She needed me. I struggled against the man that held me, fighting desperately to free myself. Feeling my struggle, he gripped me tighter, pulling me close. I flailed and kicked when my hand, still held behind me, brushed against something tucked into the man’s belt. It was exactly what I needed. A distraction.
Slipping it from the belt, I lunged my shaking arm upward. I broke his grasp for a moment the pistol clutched in my freezing, fumbling hand. I pointed it straight up in the air, hoping the noise would give me the distraction I needed. The sailor behind me grabbed my forearm, wrenching it downward. The force caused me to pull the trigger, and the shot fired straight in front of me. Erupting in a cloud of sparks and smoke, the crack of the shot made my ears ring just as the door closed behind Emily. I was too late.
The man behind me gave my hand a violent shake, causing me to drop the gun. It must have clattered to the ground, but I couldn’t hear it. After the shot, the world had gone silent, with nothing but the ringing sound reverberating through me. The man ripped my arm back behind me. When the smoke cleared, every eye was on me and I felt the air hiss out of my lungs. One face stood out from all the others. The young man who’d helped Emily. His eyes were twice their normal size as he stared at a gaping hole in the barrel beside him, mere inches from his head. The young man fixed his eyes on me with such a look of hatred that I wanted to sink into the floor.”
People ask me if my travels in the UK are inspiring. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever known. My characters materialize around of me, and new ones wait in the wings, just out of sight.
An elderly woman looks wistfully out the window, over her china tea cup.
A young man throws a suspicious glance over his shoulder as he hurries down the street, his shoulders hunched against the rain.
A little girl gazes up at an antique cupboard, wondering if it just might be haunted.
Life is a lovely thing when sprinkled with imaginings.
“Because when you are imagining something, you may as well imagine something worth while.”
Anne of Green Gables
Well, thought I’d drop into reality just long enough to blog. But if you don’t mind, fairyland awaits. Tell you all about it when I’m back.