“I had a dream, which was not all a dream…”
-‘Darkness’, opening lines, by Lord Byron
I actually managed to dig up the very first version of my book. Something I wrote over ten years ago. I read through it, smiling at how awkward and stilted my prose sounds to me now. I did overwrought drama very well back then. A tad too well, I think, as I reach my first bit of awkward dialogue.
It looks like it was written by a teenager (albeit one with an excellent vocabulary, which is convenient).
After the first rejection letter – which I kept next to the first ever hard copy, I was crushed. (I know, I know, part of the deal of being a writer, but I was new at this, sue me). I went home, began working on something brand new. Unfortunately, back then, inspiration didn’t come as easily as it does now, and I struggled for months. After another year or so, I managed to create something new. And the lack of inspiration was evident. My prose had improved, my dialogue even more so. But the story itself was weak. I needed neither editor nor publisher to tell me that. I scrapped that second work and moved on, retaining some of the core ideas for what would be the true story. All I had was the name of my protagonist and an idea for a holy order of knights who hunted the evil of both men and their nightmares.
I decided I was going about it the wrong way.
Rather than craft a story from the outset, I began to craft the world instead, shaping its nations, its laws, its magic, and hoped the story would manifest that way.
It did, but I needed a lot to find what I was looking for.
The first version of my world was called Real. At the time, I thought it was rather funny. A play on the idea of fantasy worlds. Eventually, I chose a bastardization of our own world’s name – Earth became Erith, and I imagined an eventual reforming of the world of magic into the mundane realities. When Earth would instead become a bastardization of Erith.
But in the end, I decided that that name wasn’t true of my intent. When I wrote my books, I wasn’t thinking of this world at all. I went to distant places, and dreamed of things that never were and never could be in our world. I dreamed of people that could not exist, and would find no welcome in the modern world. I dreamed a voluntary exile, of a life distant from this plane, from this way of thinking, from its increasingly literal ideas of what imagination was and its growing propensity to forgo the suspension of disbelief. I went deeper and further and Lovecraft and Tolkien in my search, afraid too that what I would produce would too closely mirror theirs.
Instead I began reading poetry, and tried to find definition in what was alluded to, rather than what was baldly stated. I revisited myths and legends, marvelled at mighty Achilles and the sheer badassery of Beowulf. I read of Cuchulainn and his ‘warp spasm’, and I studied some of the myths of the far east, finding in them the places where stories have not yet gone.
In fact, I had begun writing a novel inspired by the Warring States eras of both China and Japan – something to return to perhaps, once the story arc begun in Where The Gods Lie Dreaming is completed.
Through the work of TS Eliot I discovered the idea of a Wasteland, the wreck of modernity and its many broken promises.
In Percy Bysshe Shelly, I found the hubris of men, overwhelmed and turned to nothing by the slow march of time.
(Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.)
In Alfred Lord Tennyson I began to find true definitions of a hero,
(to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.)
And of glorious and fruitless sacrifices,
(Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell)
But I soon found my favourite poem – and the eventual dark shape the amorphous mist that was my world was to take. Darkness, by Lord Byron. Something about it got me writing the story again, in earnest, and the story took shape far more readily than it ever had. In the end, the story resembles very little of the poem, in truth. But what he conveyed throughout the poem seemed to have stoked some of the embers of the old story. Rage, fury, pain, fear, despair, the frailty of men. I found the answer and I found my villains in both the opening and the closing lines of the poem. Of a world, dreamt of, a lonely sphere in the darkness.
And the end of all things, swallowed up in an endless night. I wrote of these things as desires, feeding the cynicism I felt at the time, and I found the resistance in what I thought were my abandoned ideals. I seized on those things and forged my heroes – men and women capable of resisting the coming end. I had my story. I had the truth. It was time to shape it into what I needed.
I named the sphere Amarith – a world both far more terrifying than our own, yet also a thousand times more wondrous and beautiful.
Afer I began to write the final version of the story, what would become my first true publication.
And funnily enough, though I had all but forgotten the original work of that teenaged, belligerently optimistic writer a decade ago, the first chapter of the new book bears the nearly same name as the first chapter of that story, all those years ago.
Sometimes you come full circle and begin to write what you’ve always been writing. Tolkien, Lovecraft and others have shaped the writer I became, definitely.
But, the day I began writing what would become my real first novel, was the day I found this poem:
by Lord Byron