There are times when the inspiration pool runs foul of a drought, where I long for a drop of rain to usher in that glimmer of a spark to aid the writing process. My novel, The Range, is complete and all it needs is a fabulous cover, so in the meantime I’ve been pushing on with the sequel, The Holt.
This book is different in many ways and though it is blast to write it hasn’t been easy. Unlike The Range, which was initially written by the seat of my pants (and consequently went through many edits) The Holt is more time-consuming than I expected for various reasons.
There are more characters and the plot has a bigger scope, but also I’m taking my time to capture the essence of the characters so they drive the story rather than the plot leading them places.
At times the words flow with such ease, whereas I’ve frequently found them tricksy and elusive, as if I’m having to scrape them off the inside of my brain and chuck them at the screen to see what looks good.
The words are in my head. I see them dance and perform as they do each night when I close my eyes in bed. I watch my characters play out the current scene I’m working on. I rewind and watch it again to see what happens if they do or say something different. It works in my head. It feels right.
Then when I sit to write, the words feel jumbled up like a beautiful painting has been smeared with a splash of cold Alphabetti Spaghetti.
It’s infuriating to say the least.
When you least expect it…
I know there’s a sort of rule that states writers should write every day, even if it’s garbage, and whilst I try to do that I don’t enjoy the process of laying down words for the sake of it. And even though the business of writing is to produce content, a writer shouldn’t forget the reason they started writing in the first place – because it’s fun and because telling stories is what they were born to do.
Inspiration Fairies can be fickle creatures, but when they throw that golden shimmering cloud of dust into the air, there’s little that can stop those words from forming in my mind. It’s a strange feeling, like seeing a sign post in the fog that becomes clear the closer you get.
First a word or two, maybe a slither of dialogue or a sentence. In the background there’s the buzz of a title, or a connection to something familiar but at the same time unknown.
Now and then it feels like Imaginationland is a distant twinkle on the horizon. Sometimes I picture real life as a ragged saw rasping across the link to that land of untold mystery, excitement and adventure.
So when the Inspiration Fairies come it’s as if they can detect I’ve strayed too far from the lights and magic and are compelled to remind me that the wonders of that special place are calling me to return.
Fantastical gibberish it may sound, dear blog reader, but that’s how my brain works.
Inspiration Fairies, I thank you.
Back in July 2011, I was inspired to write a short story titled Ground Fall by a painting, Resilience, by the wonderful artist Christina Deubel, It turned into something of a novella in five parts. One day I’ll return to that story and tidy it up and make something more of it.
Today I was struck by a sudden hot shard of inspiration by another of Christina’s paintings, Into Tomorrow, the one at the top of the page.
It hit me about 4 hours ago, and although since then I’ve read/sent a bunch of emails, commented on blogs, sent tweets, eaten my dinner, washed up, fed the dogs and watched TV, the image of the painting didn’t fade, and nor did the spark that inspired the story below.
I’m writing this raw, unedited, straight from brain to screen. Normally I wouldn’t start writing so late, even when it’s my day off tomorrow, and though it’s just gone midnight I have to write this now.
I’ve not written a short piece for quite some time, so let’s see where this takes us.
This one’s for Christina, thank you kindly for your inspiration fairies.
And I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your painting!
“Tam, stop letting go.”
“My feets hurt, Joby.”
Joey liked that his sister couldn’t yet pronounce his name, and normally it made him smile. But in the darkness of the woods it had lost its shine. Joey reached back and grasped Tammy’s hand hard and pulled her forward.
“Ouchy. That hurts.”
“Keep up then.”
“I want Mum. She holds my hand nice.”
Joey scowled and started walking again. “Well she’s not here.”
At eight and a half years old, Joey didn’t have the skills or the filter that adults employed when faced with difficult questions, though in the last few hours he’d began to have an inkling of how important they were. Tammy was six and didn’t really understand danger the same way Joey did. She didn’t understand why she had to be quiet, or why she had to keep walking.
“Because she’s not,” Joey said after a minute.
“She just isn’t.” Joey tugged his sister’s hand again. “Come on.”
Joey sighed but didn’t let go. Losing Tammy in the darkness frightened him as much as what they had escaped and what might be in woods, watching them. They could be watching them right now, waiting to jump out.
“Just keep quiet, Tam. Remember what Mum said?”
Weak slithers of moonlight filtered through the trees and for a moment Joey saw his sister’s face scrunch up in thought.
“About the castle?”
“It’s not a castle.”
“It is. Mum said.”
“It’s a church.”
“No. She said it was a castle.”
Joey led them around tree roots that clawed at the path like his Grandmother’s gnarled fingers. “Anyway I wasn’t talking about that bit.”
With patience usually unknown by a child, Joey took a deep breath. “Okay. Castle. I meant what she said about being quiet, like a what?”
Tammy smiled at her brother. “Dinosaur.”
“No. Not a dinosaur.” Joey rolled his eyes. Tammy loved dinosaurs. She watched Land Before Time over and over and had an army of stuffed dinosaur toys on her bed. “Something else.”
“Dinosaurs can be quiet.”
“No they can’t.”
“Littlefoot was quiet.”
“Not all the time. Anyway, Mum said to be as quiet as a mouse. Remember?”
Tammy veered off to the left, reaching for a leaf. “A mouse?”
“Yes.” Joey pulled her back. “Remember?”
“But they’re quiet. Anyway it’s mice. Not mouses.”
“Is. Miss Hughbert told us that at school.”
“I don’t like Miss Hoobert. She’s a meany ugly face.”
Joey giggled then clamped his right hand over his mouth. His eyes darted back and forth across the path. When the trees cleared there was enough moonlight to see, but when the branches got thick he started to imagine the people in the darkness again. He couldn’t hear them any more but when he started thinking about the strange sounds they made he started to think that maybe he could.
“She is a bit mean,” he said, keeping his voice low.
Tammy nodded in agreement. “She has a big nose.”
“And a funny eye too.”
“Like a witch.”
“Maybe she is one.”
Joey wished he could take the words out of his mouth, or maybe suck them out of his sister’s ears.
Tammy had stopped walking.
Joey saw the whites of her eyes as they flitted back and forth. He was at her side when her bottom lip began to quiver, left arm around her shoulder, urging her on.
“Witches hide in woods,” Tammy said.
“Not these ones.”
Joey thought fast. “These are nice woods.”
Tammy watched him for a moment.
“Mice and squirrels and badgers live here,” Joey said. “Witches don’t like them much.”
“How do you know?”
“Mum told me.”
Joey knew that would work. Mum’s words were magic. Tammy brightened up and took his hand. They walked on for a couple of minutes. Joey thought about what was going to happen when they reached the end of the path. He had to remember what their Mum had told them, who to speak to and what to say. He couldn’t remember all of it. He had to ask for a name. Someone called…
“Are we nearly there yet?”
“Will Mum be there?”
“Does that mean no?”
“When Mum says maybe it means no. Sometimes.”
Joey winced. “Sometimes.”
“So will she?”
“I don’t know, Tam. Just keep walking.”
Tammy kicked a stone. It rolled and bounced across the hard ground and thudded against a tree. Joey thought the muffled sound was like thunder.
“Don’t kick things.”
“Me too. Just don’t kick anything.”
“Because someone might…”
Tammy glanced at him. “What?”
Neither of them had heard or seen anything for a long time. Joey wished he had his Skylanders wristwatch with the light-up face so he could work out how long they’d been walking. He only had so much patience and despite feeling frightened of what might be out there, he forgot for a moment.
“Because the people might hear us and come. That’s why.”
Tammy sucked in a gasp. “But Mum said-”
“Doesn’t matter what Mum said. She’s not here.”
“Because she isn’t, okay?” Joey realised his voice was too loud. He stopped and looked around. “She just isn’t.”
Tammy hung her head and looked at her shoes. “Because of the people?”
Joey didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to scare his sister but he needed her to be quiet. Maybe telling her the truth would make her keep her promise about being as quiet as a mouse. But maybe Tammy would start crying again. The last time she’d cried they’d hid in a bush when they heard the strange sounds. He’d put a hand over her mouth and hummed to her.
“Yes,” he said, trying to sound confident. “The people were everywhere. Mum knows what to do. She said we got to be brave.”
“Did they get her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Like they got that man in the shops?”
“Mum said something about a man.”
“I don’t know, Tam.”
“Mum’s brave but they got her didn’t they?”
“She is very brave. Like us.”
Tammy looked at her shoes. “But they got her?”
“Come on,” Joey said, pulling her hand gently. “Keep walking.”
Tammy didn’t move. She let out a quiet sob when Joey looked at her.
“Hey.” Joey glanced at the trees. “We don’t need to cry.”
“I want Mum.”
Joey put his arm around her. He wanted to protect her but he needed to get them to the end of the path as quickly as possible.
“Me too. We’ll see her soon.”
“Cross my heart.”
“And hope to die,” Tammy said.
Joey frowned. “Sort of.”
“Do you think the people followed us?”
The sudden question made Joey’s stomach go cold. He turned and stared at the long dark path behind them. Shadows twitched and slithered across the ground. Autumn leaves rustled in the slight breeze and though Joey hadn’t taken much notice of them before he felt the sting of fear tingle over his skin.
“I don’t think they-”
They both jumped when a twig snapped.
Tammy pressed close to her brother. “Joby.”
Gripping her hand tight he pulled her next to him. “Come on,” he whispered.
“Are the people coming?”
Joey shifted into a rapid walk. It was just a twig. Twigs snap. He’d snapped millions of them. But did they snap on their own? Could twigs do that? If they couldn’t then it meant…
“Don’t look back, Tam. Keep walking.”
Tammy twisted her head. “Look at what?”
“I said don’t look back.”
“My feet hurt.”
“Mum didn’t let me wear my webbly boots.”
Not listening to much other than his heart thudding, Joey pulled Tammy into a trot.
“These hurt my feet.”
“Peppa Pig webbly boots don’t.”
When another twig snapped Joey lurched into a run.
“Joby.” Tammy’s feet were dragging on the ground. “My feet really hurt.”
“Mine hurt worser.”
Joey didn’t understand how anyone could have followed them so far down the path. They hadn’t seen anyone for ages. He couldn’t hear the people but he knew, absolutely knew they were coming for them.
“Why didn’t you wear your Peppa Pig ones then?”
Tammy lowered her head to look at her shoes and tripped almost immediately. Joey caught her when she landed on her knees. He tried to pick her up but she rolled onto her bottom and gripped her knee.
“Tam, we can’t stop.”
Joey dropped beside her and placed a hand over her mouth before she could cry out.
“Please don’t cry.”
He rubbed her knee in the same way their Mum did when they fell over.
“See? Nothing hurt. You’re okay.”
He wiped a tear from her cheek, smiled at her then glanced over his shoulder.
Someone was coming.
He couldn’t see them yet but he was certain he could hear them. A strange gurgle. Like breathing through a blocked nose.
“Silly shoes,” Tammy said.
“Very silly. You okay now?”
Tammy got up and Joey knocked leaves from her jeans.
“Can I take them off?”
Joey urged her on. “We don’t have time.”
“We just don’t. Besides you can’t walk outside without shoes.”
“Webbly boots aren’t shoes,” Tammy said shuffling next to her brother.
“They go on your feet. Same thing.”
“Peppa Pig webbly boots are pink.”
Joey wished he could stop looking over his shoulder. He wished Tammy could walk faster. He wished this stupid path would end so they could meet the good people.
“These are brown,” Tammy said. “Don’t like brown.”
“Mine are brown too.”
“Not like mine.”
“Yes they are.”
Joey was thankful Tammy either couldn’t hear the sound of the people or had somehow managed to block them out. There were more now. Different sounds. Some gurgled through snotty throats, some croaked like they were out of breath and some wheezed like their Grandmother after smoking too many of her cigars.
Once again they broke into a jog, Joey was mindful not to push his sister too much in case she fell again. If he kept Tammy talking she might not even notice the people behind them.
“My shoes aren’t like yours.”
“Silly. Mine have got special red on them.”
Joey slowed down as he spoke, his eyes drifted to the ground and the little splashes of light that barely lit the heels of Tammy’s shoes. The red lights in her TwinkleLite shoes blipped on and off with every step she took.
Little more than soft light they suddenly seemed to send out a beam like a light house.
Joey brought them to a stop. He bent down in front of Tammy.
“Get them off.”
Tammy bent over, her head hit his.
Joey wanted to rub his head, but he fumbled in the darkness for Tammy’s shoes.
He pulled the left one off.
“You said not to take them off.”
Tammy flapped her hands against his arm. “You said-”
“Let go.” Joey pushed her hands away and tugged at the right shoe.
The darkness made sounds seem very close. A snuffle could have come from right next to his face but he forced himself to think it wasn’t. It was far away. It wasn’t anywhere near them. It was just his imagination.
“What do I wear now?”
“Nothing,” Joey said. He tossed the shoe aside, stood up and grabbed her hand. “Come on.”
“I can’t go in my socks.”
“Yes you can.”
Tammy stood rooted to the spot. “Where are my Twinkles?”
“Gone. Please Tam, we have to go.”
“Not without my Twinkles.”
“I’ll get you some more, I promise.”
“I want my ones.”
When Joey heard a branch break he knew the people were much closer. Tammy span around, eyes wide, mouth open.
“Who broked that?”
“Was it the people?”
Tammy backed away. “Coming to get us?”
“Not if we run.” Joey bent down and turned her face to his. “Can you run really fast for me?”
It hurt Joey’s face to smile but he had to show he was brave. “Fastest you ever run, ever.”
“I can run faster than you.”
Joey shook his head. “Can not.”
Tammy smiled. The momentary distraction vanished when another branch broke to their right. He knew Tammy could see the fear on his face. He tried to hide it and he’d protest until the end of time to their Mum that he’d tried to be brave as best as he could. But he knew being brave was hard when you were so frightened.
“Let’s race,” Tammy said. “Bet I can beat you.”
“And don’t let go of my hand this time.”
“Not ever, Tam.”
They took off down the path to the sound of gurgles and wheezing and people coughing. Joey thought he heard someone puke not far behind them. The splashing sound reminded him of playing in puddles in the school playground. He wished he was at school now. Miss Hughbert was mean but he bet she’d make the people leave them alone. She could be very fierce sometimes.
Joey was surprised at how fast his sister could run, even without her shoes. They had to reach the end of the path soon. Even though there were less trees now the moon must have gone behind the clouds because it was darker than ever. He couldn’t see the path very well and started to worry one of them would trip over something.
Just as he started to think they’d left the people behind a sudden barking cough to his right made him jump.
Tammy lurched to the left, pulling Joey with her. “Who’s that?”
“No one. Just a badger.”
Joey was starting to get a stitch. His stomach ached and he began to slow down.
“Hey. We’re racing.”
“I know.” Joey held his stomach. “Keep going.”
“But you’re going really slow.”
“Giving you a chance.”
Joey slowed even more, the stitch in his side hurt a lot. Glancing up he saw the trees were almost gone. The path had to end soon. That’s what their Mum had said. Go to the end of the path. You’ll know when because the trees will…will what? Go away? Trees didn’t go anywhere. What had she called it?
“Why are you stopping?”
They’d do something.
Snuffling sounds to their left and right made Joey jerk up. His stitch flared and he cried out.
“Joby? What’s wrong?”
What had Mum said?
Why couldn’t he remember?
“Nothing.” Joey tried a few steps but each one made the pain worse. “I’m okay.”
“You look funny.”
“Got a stitch. That’s all.”
“What’s a stitch?”
She’d said go to the end of the path. You’ll see the good people when the trees do something.
The sound of snapping branches and twigs were like his Rice Krispies at breakfast, popping and fizzing when he poured milk on them. Now it was Tammy’s turn to tug his hand. She pulled and pulled but Joey was struggling for breath. In a distant part of his mind he was amazed at how she had managed to run so far in just her socks. If she wasn’t careful they’d go threadbare.
“When the trees thin out at the end of the path, that’s where the good people will be.”
“Thin trees?” Tammy said.
Joey pulled himself up, ignoring the pain, and stared at the trees. There were only a few on either side of the path now.
“Yes. Come on.”
Why were the trees moving?
He lumbered forward, holding Tammy’s hand tighter than ever.
Trees don’t move. Not unless a big wind made them.
They weren’t trees that’s why.
The dark cloudy sky brightened as the moon slid out of its hiding place.
Tammy yelped. “The people.”
Joey was good at Maths at school. He counted six people shuffling and hobbling toward them.
“They going to get us.”
Joey wanted to turn around and run back. There were no good people at the end of the path. Why had their Mum lied to them? Why would she tell them that? Mum never lied. He tried to remember what she’d said. Had she used the word maybe? Maybe there were good people at the end? Because maybe sometimes meant no.
“Joby. Are they good people?”
“I…I don’t…maybe, Tam…maybe.”
In the woods all around them came the sound of people pushing their way through the branches and the undergrowth. Snuffly throats, grumpy voices that sounded like dogs and cats fighting, and lots of wheezing. Where were they all coming from? Why where they chasing them?
“Maybe,” Tammy said. “But maybe means-”
“No good people here?”
Joey wouldn’t be able to hide his wee soaked jeans from anyone. He wanted to cry when his legs went hot and wet.
He pulled Tammy close to him and tried to look for a way out.
People were coming right to them from everywhere.
He hoped Tammy hadn’t seen what had happened to the shoppers in the supermarket when the bad people came. He was pretty sure their Mum had held Tammy against her when they escaped. But Joey had seen it. He wished he hadn’t because he had enough nightmares as it was without the memories of screaming shoppers and blood going everywhere. He didn’t think there had ever been so much blood in the world.
“Joby. I can’t see.”
“Don’t look, Tam. Keep your eyes closed.”
Joey sobbed. “Because it’s a surprise.”
“A good surprise?”
Joey gripped his sister tight against him. “Yes.”
“I don’t like the noises, Joby.”
“Make them stop.”
“Just close your eyes.”
The people were a few feet away now. Joey could smell poo and puke. He wished he’d made Tammy run right from the start. Maybe they might have out run the people instead of just walking.
“Are your eyes closed too?”
Joey couldn’t help himself.
He lifted his head and stared as two of the people reached out for him.
He twisted away and bumped into someone’s legs.
Another trickle of wee ran down his legs when that person groaned loudly.
He gripped Tammy’s head close to his chest and stared up at the face of a man whose nose was gone. There was a gaping black hole where it had been. Thick dark blood spewed over the man’s mouth and ran off his chin.
A boom of thunder made the people stop suddenly.
The man’s head exploded. Blood and bits of sticky stuff hit Joey in the face.
Tammy squealed. “Joby!”
Another boom. Another person exploded and fell over.
The moon turned into the sun.
Intense light shocked the path. It was so bright Joey had to squint to try to see where it was coming from. Rivers of light ran through the trees. Joey stared at the golden leaves on the few remaining trees at the end of the path. Although his ears were ringing he thought he heard the rumble of a car engine.
Then he realised it wasn’t thunder but guns.
Someone was shooting the people.
All around him the people were grunting and crying out. He could hear them falling over. Some fell with a splat that reminded him of the time when he dropped a whole plate of mashed potato on the kitchen floor. Others landed with a thud. One by one all the people fell over. Shot by someone else.
Joey didn’t notice someone talking at first. The guns had stopped and the silence coupled with the ringing in his ears was very strange. Like being under water in swimming lessons.
“…are you Joey and Tammy?”
It was a woman’s voice, but not their Mum’s.
Joey blinked into the head lights as a dark figure walked toward him. He nodded and watched as another person appeared.
“Are you okay?”
“Y-yes, I think so.”
Tammy wriggled against him. He let go of her head and she looked up.
“Are you the good people?” she said.
“We’re baddasses actually,” said the woman to the right.
Joey liked the way she chuckled.
“Lou, knock it off.” The closer woman knelt down in front of Joey. “Yes, we’re the good people.”
“Is my Mum here?” Joey said.
Through blurry eyes Joey saw that she wasn’t a woman, not like their Mum, but a young girl, a teenager. She had a dirty face but a nice smile. He flinched when he saw lots of nasty scars on her arms.
“Looks worse than it is,” she said.
“Are those real scars?” Tammy said.
“They sure are.”
Joey tore his eyes from the scars. “Did my Mum tell you to get us?”
“She did. She radioed for help a few hours ago. She said she was taking you down a long path south out of the town.”
“Some directions,” Lou said as she walked around the dead people.
“Where’s your Mum?”
Joey looked around. “She said she’d be here.” He knew what that look meant. “But she’s not is she?”
“Sorry honey, she’s not.”
Tammy looked hopeful. “Will we see her soon?”
Joey shared a quick look with the girl then nodded at Tammy. “Soon, Tam.”
“We better get going,” Lou said. “There’s more of them coming.”
Joey looked from Lou to the other girl. “Go where?”
“To a safe place.”
Joey wanted to be safe. He wanted Tammy to be safe from the bad people. But he’d always been told never to go anywhere with strangers.
“Who are you?”
The girl smiled. “My name’s Samantha Brayden. I’m the leader of The Range.”
Well that didn’t turn out quite how I planned. For a while there I was certain Joey and Tammy were not going to make it. I had an inkling that the path would lead them to a good place and good people, but part of me wanted to shun the happy (ish) ending and go for a much darker place.
But then I looked at Christina’s painting again and remembered the rays of light coming through the trees.
Whilst it looks like sunlight I saw artificial light made by car headlights.
I saw two children lost and alone, searching for a friend in the darkness. There had to be salvation there for Joey and Tammy because even in the darkest times there’s always light. I wasn’t sure until the very end who it would be who rescued the children. The fact that it’s the same characters, Samantha and Louise from The Range, came as a bit of a surprise.
It seems that even when struck by inspiration I’m still drawn to the world created in my novel.
I started writing this at midnight and it’s now 4am. Talk about a rush of inspiration! I haven’t read it back through yet so I hope the tension works out okay. I think all I’m going to do is spell check then head for bed. My eyes are sore and it’s been a long day, long night too in fact, but that’s fantastic!
Right-o dear blog reader, that’s enough of a mad dash through Imaginationland for one night.
Once again, thanks to Christina for her Inspiration Fairies.
By the way, do pop over to her website www.inthedepths.com and breathe in Christina’s amazing art. It’s amazing stuff.
Sleep tight folks!