rrrepeat : connecting stories

the luring in of stories

by nimue brown

when nícia approached me to do a guest blog, she self-identified as a story-catcher. it’s a charming term. where do stories come from? i’ve always been something of an unconscious writer. i don’t plan a plot and hammer out the beats for those key scenes and developments, and this is no doubt one of the reasons why my story shapes are unconventional and i don’t fit tidily into genres.

when i took on writing about hopeless maine, it wasn’t a thing of my creating. artist tom brown (then a distant figure on the other side of the atlantic from me, now my husband of 6 years standing) had imagined the location and many of its inhabitants. a handful of pages existed, although we started again. it was my job to step into that world and get inside the heads of people living on the island.

it was a surprisingly easy process. it felt, for much of the time like i was basically transcribing things that already existed. i just had to tap in and write them down. i’ve checked with tom, and while he admits to finding some of what i’ve come up with ‘surprising’ it all fits with his sense of the place. i can’t explain how that happened in any kind of technical way.
sometimes, stories come to us, they don’t have to be hunted, lured or seduced in any way. they just rock up, demanding to be told. the main character in hopeless came into tom’s life while he was living in a transitional homeless shelter. he needed something good, and she simply showed up in his head, dressed in a robe made of cloth strips and with a crow’s wing on her shoulder. often, he sees things, and i figure them out.

it’s difficult to deliberately hunt for stories when you know perfectly well that your best work is a consequence of stories just turning up. i think the only answer here is to try and be the kind of environment a story might be attracted to. perhaps a bit like putting out peanuts for the wild birds. it’s not an unfair stretch of that metaphor to add that putting out peanuts can get you squirrels as well, and that you have to be open to working with what shows up even if it wasn’t what you were trying to attract. having set out to be a novelist, i’ve detoured into graphic novels, blogging and non-fiction because those are my squirrels.

stories need time. they need periods of not much deliberate thinking going on. they like a head that is well stocked with random bits of information, that can be latched onto and applied in unexpected ways. stories like room to grow – many resent deadlines and rebel at the first sign of a required word count per day, in my experience. they like it all on their own, whimsical terms. i’ve read plenty of assertions about how to be a professional, disciplined author, but all i can get by working that way is fairly obvious, banal and formulaic stuff. i’m just not excited by that as a prospect. and so i wait for the unconscious projects, for the ideas that turn up, and i try and make sure there will always be room for them.

{here’s a short story related to hopeless maine, enjoy it!}

Hopeless Witchcraft

There have always been witches on Hopeless, Maine. The name has of course changed over time, but the job description is pretty reliable. Deal with the dead when necessary. Fix the broken things. Break the troublesome things. Dispense wisdom that will largely be disregarded until it’s too late to be of much use anyway. Take in unwanted cats. Redistribute unwanted children. Provide potions for unwanted lovers. Be discernibly more odd than anyone else. This last one tends to be the biggest challenge.

They were sat in a corner at The Crow, a crystal ball on the table between them, mostly empty cups of brewed leaves on either side. Salamandra preferred not to read leaves, because it meant taking a long, hard look at what you’d been drinking, and that tended not to be a comforting process. They made a peculiar scene – two young women, one in black, the other one looking like an exercise in mummification gone somewhat awry. There was no wind, in The Crow, but the strips of cloth and the hair belong to the young witch were all, very slightly, in motion.

“So, basically, you’re saying all the omens are really bad for me getting married next Tuesday?” Perspicacity Jones shook her head. “But I’ve invited everyone.”

“So, why didn’t you ask me for a reading before?” Salamandra asked.

Perspicacity failed to correctly interpret the fixed smile, and made a telling glance towards her own middle. “It suddenly became rather important.”

Being The Witch, Salamandra had long since discovered, meant telling people things they did not want to hear, and would try to pretend you hadn’t said. Not that Salamandra self-identified as a witch. She preferred ‘experimental occultist’. After weeks of being asked ‘what’s that, then?’ whenever she said it, and then explaining, and being told ‘sounds just like a witch to me’ she had mostly given up. The job, after all, had many names, and all of them lead to trafficking with the uncooperative.

“I really wouldn’t have a wedding on that day,” Sal tried.

Her client did not look entirely surprised by this. “It’s not really that bad, is it?”

“I’m seeing a terrible storm.”

Perspicacity smiled, and nodded. “That’s not so unusual.”

“And an earthquake.”

Perspicacity paused to consider this, before asking, “Do any buildings fall down?”

“Three.”

“Anyone I like?”

“Guess not.” Salamandra shrugged. “Bits of cliff falling into the sea, small tidal wave, the usual.”

“Fine.”

“Sea monster washing in though.”

“But not in the church, right?”

“Well, obviously not in the church, no. Rain of blood all afternoon.”

Perspicacity shrugged her black-clad shoulders. “I’m hardly going to wear white.”

“Taken as a whole, I would say these are not omens favourable to commencing a long and happy union,” Salamandra pointed out.

Perspicacity gave her a long, hard look. “Got any favourable days for that coming up, have we?”

Salamandra contemplated the crystal ball for a bit. “Not soon,” she admitted.

“Thought as much,” Perspicacity said.

Salamandra heaved a sigh of warning-sign proportions. “Why did you even bother to ask?”

“Well,” said Perspicacity, “I always think you can’t be too careful about these things.”

{if you enjoyed the story, know more about hopeless maine here. and check this wonderful pictures: 1, 2, and 3.}

//find nimue brown: twitter . blog

//find tom: twitter . blog

//purchase the book!

 

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