When I was a boy I was quite the melancholic little soul. No one really knew, well my mother did I guess, as outwardly I was the funniest little, wise cracking, smiley faced boy one could imagine. But when I was alone, I found most comfort in that solitude. In the summer, I would somehow climb to the roof of our shed at the end of the garden and lie in the sun, reading the most incredible stories. In winter, I would invariably be trapped in our little house, so I had to seek out or more often than not, create or even imagine my own little nook or cranny for privacy.
Many is the time my mother would have to slide my little, skinny, short-trousered self from under our sofa, fast asleep book still in hand. I made hidden fortresses in the small, dark cloakroom beneath the stairs. I would surround myself with the boxes stored there, filled with Christmas decorations or the fancy plates for when guests might come. Then, I would take down my mother’s coat to wrap around me for warmth and its comforting , familiar smell of ‘Tweed’ and read by torchlight
What lay beneath those pages was a different and wonderful world. I read the strangest things for a little boy. One day I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I think would have put most small boys off reading for life, but instead I was fascinated, enthralled even. It was hard work but that didn’t matter. I was in no hurry. The next day I was back to reading more childish adventure stories. It was a weird and wonderful world when I was alone and I read everything.
However, I was quite often a frightened little boy and I wanted so much to be brave. Perhaps that is why, between science books, Treasure Island and books like Douglas Bader’s ‘Reach for the Sky’ I sought out and found, some darker tales. Moby Dick absorbed me. I instantly got Captain Ahab and his fanatical hatred. I loved Dracula and again I recall that at such a tender age, it was a chore at times to read and on my first reading much of it went past me, but oh the darkness, the fear, the love. I got it. I got it all and I knew the answer to my own crushing anxieties, lay in the pages of these books and I had to find it.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote about it, M. Night Shyamalan evoked it, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it. I loved it, the fear outside the door, the frightening unknown monsters in the night, the darkness on the edge of town. I am fascinated by the way people react to fear in all its guises. But I am not talking about tales of horror. I am talking about human nature in every simple story and finding a character’s true potential, by placing them in danger, be it moral or mortal.
Some may find it odd that when I began writing Darkly Wood, I started with a notion of love and loss as the primary drivers. However those that have read it know that there is more than a touch of darkness blended through the pages. Writing the sequel, I began with that notion of a darkness on the edge of town as it really appealed to me, but something strange has started to happen. Something else has crept in to my new book and it has surprised even me. I know it will surprise my readers and it has perhaps even created the possibility of a third book from Darkly’s simple beginnings.
That’s how it happens when I write. The idea is planted in my brain and the basis of a plot sprouts up. As the idea grows, as I write, the leaves grow and branches form and every writing tree looks different. I know every writer is unique and we all have our own way of getting from start to finish. But I have a secret.
Behind every story that I tell there is a little boy. He is really quite a little wisp of a thing. He has a smiling mouth, but sad eyes and he sits, hidden in the dark beneath the stairs where no one can see him. There is a torch in his hand and he is opening a book. It is the book I am writing now and I know he has touched the binding and smelt the pages before turning to the first page. He is full of expectation and hope. I know this one’s for him and as I write, I know exactly where I want to take him…